Saturday, November 13, 2010

Persistent Memory

Dali - The persistence of Memory
Good morning God,
Memory is clearly both a gift and a curse. It is essential to everyday living, but it can also play cruel tricks with us. It can betray us when it falters, leaving us bereft and empty of names and faces we once loved. It can surprise and delight us with childhood moments in adult years. But it is also frighteningly easy to develop false memories and to create a selective memory which chooses to remember only the 'good' things or (in certain cases) the 'bad' things about someone or some situation.
By far the most disturbing aspect of memory however is its persistence. Dali recognised this and depicted both the horror and the morbid fascination of persistent memory in his surreal landscape  of the same name.
In the picture he brilliantly captures the distortion of human form that occurs when we cannot forget.
Ask most people who have suffered from abuse about the persistence of memory about the way in which it is impossible to forget - even when the claim is made that the abuser has been forgiven. And about the way that the persistence of the memory of their abuse continually shapes and defines their world and their self-image.
Forgiveness is seemingly linked inextricably to the ability to forget. The argument is simple enough, if the hurt and the harm can be forgotten, then it will prove easier to forgive the person who inflicted it.
But this is not really forgiveness, this is merely forgetting. 
Real forgiveness is related to the persistence of memory, it's what make forgiveness so difficult to do and what makes the simple statement 'Your sins are forgiven' so mind-blowing.
To be able to forgive remembered sin (real or otherwise) takes grace and the unique ability of grace as your power to transform life, regardless of who committed the sin.
Your grace alone can provide us with a place where we can stand in safety to look into the past and truly acknowledge it, to feel the power of its hold on us, before learning how to forgive ourselves and others for it. You offer us a new life where memories can be hung as pictures, rather than used as weapons to continue to hurt and harm, and where forgiveness transforms and empowers us to try again to build a new world..

And this is as true for inherited memory as it is for personal memory.
I do not personally remember the crusades, the inquisition, the shoah - but they are part of our inherited memory - as are the masacres in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, the acts of terrorism in Israel/Palestine, the USA, UK and Ireland and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 
And as long as the memory of those acts are used as weapons to create further hatred and fear there can be no peace: we are doomed to repeat what we remember. When we say - we will remember them - what will we remember of them? What will we change as a result of them? What is the power of this persistent remembering? How is this remembering shaping us and our future?

The Scriptures make it clear, our own history similarly teaches us that forgiveness is essential to transform the power of memory into a force for good - no matter how evil the deeds were or are.
How long oh Lord, How long will we harbor grudges, remember grievances and build new prejudices on the memories of the dead?

Only by your Grace God, can we obtain the power to forgive as needed and to proclaim that in spite of the memories of the past, in spite of the agitation of those who try to bind us to the past, we choose to build a new future free from its bitterness and gall. 

Why - because you have declared - your sins are forgiven, and have said to us:

Do this in remembrance of me -
forgive your enemies,
love those who spite you
go in peace and sin no more.

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