I went to my office and got out a favorite book, When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings by Thomas H. Green, S.J. (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1979). In other blog posts I’ve thought along with Fr. Green on the idea of “floating in God’s tide.” Today, I opened the book and I noticed the page where he recalls his father. The family had sent out a memorial card that read, “Remember with joy George C. Green,” and his life dates. Fr. Green says that memories of his father brings joy to his heart.
This was helpful to me as I continue to process my mother’s death last fall. My mom was a worrier, who lived in constant physical pain, and sometimes (to her family) saw the glass as half-empty, which in turn added to the pain of our concern for her well-being. Once she commented she wished I’d made better grades in school, when in fact I’d graduated cum laude; meanwhile, my dad was more unconditionally proud of me. It’s important to acknowledge such things and to put them in a larger context; she wasn’t always like that and was, throughout my life, a nurturing and supportive mother. Remembering the whole of my parents’ lives helps me avoid a “half empty” outlook and embrace a variety of feelings, as I work through grief toward contentment and joy in my memories.
Fr. Green (writing in the context of his discussion of St. Teresa and the relationship of will, understanding, and imagination) comments that his remembering of his father brings joy, and so can the memory of Jesus. “When Jesus was about to die, he was anxious that we remember his love for us, that we remember him… As one of our most beautiful contemporary songs puts it: ‘All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.’ When our prayer becomes more ‘quiet’… our understanding and our imagination become the organs of remembering the Lord and his love for us. This remembering moves the will to love him, just as my memories of my father touch my heart; this is to ‘remember with joy’” (p. 49).
Fr. Green’s thoughts reminded me of those of a Lutheran writer, the New Testament scholar Nils Dahl, who describes Philippians 2:5-11 as not so much a confession of faith but a “commemoration [remembering] of Christ,” and other early Christian liturgies and practices, including the celebration of the Lord’s Day (Sunday) can be called commemorations of Christ—ways by which we remember Christ.(1) Remembering Christ in turn involves both an understanding of the gospel and the way God wants us to live, a “rule of conduct.”(2) These passages are very much in keeping with Old Testament calls to remember the Lord and his commandments, promises, and mighty acts, for instance the book of Deuteronomy, thoroughly a call to remember as a means to ongoing faithfulness.
Remembering God’s blessings and mercies through Christ is inextricably linked with those described in the Bible, bridging the centuries so that those mercies and blessings are within our own comparatively meager stories. Reading and hearing the scriptures are ways we remember Jesus, and certain passages—Ephesians 2:12, 2 Thessalonians 2:5, 2 Timothy 2:8, 2 Peter 3:1-2, and others—are specific calls to remember. Likewise, the liturgical words of the sacraments. The words of the Eucharist include the reminder to remember Christ, his death and resurrection, and his promise to return; otherwise we don’t have a sense of why we’re sharing the elements. The sacrament of Baptism evokes the name of Jesus and thus the memory of who he is and what he did on our behalf.(3)
Much of our faith is a remembering of Christ, whether we think of it that way or not. For me, some of my faith struggles have in turn arisen when I’ve forgotten to remember, as it were. That is, I’ve gotten so caught up in my everyday affairs, and in my own tendency to be anxious, that the blessings of my life and God’s unfathomably deep love become submerged in mind amid a storm of temporary concerns.
But I think, too, that remembering Christ helps us to process the disappointments and griefs in our lives. There are always things in our lives that hurt, things large and small, things we wish hadn’t happened—and we wish God hadn’t allowed them to happen. We feel discouraged with God. Remembering is a way to reassure that God is good and loves us, when we’re distressed, as the psalmist of Ps. 143 prayed when he faced a serious crisis:
I remember the days of old,
I think about all your deeds,
I meditate on the works of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
1. Nils Alstrup Dahl, Jesus in the Memory of the Early Church (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1976), the essay “Amamnesis: Memory and Commemoration in Early Christianity,” 20-21.
2. Dahl, Jesus in the Memory, 25.
3. Dahl, Jesus in the Memory, 20.