Memory is a funny thing. Odd facts pop into the mind at peculiar times; information vanishes from the brain just when you need it (an example- to answer an exam question on the theology of Pannenberg, from a very scary personal experience!). Faces you recognise, but the name slips away in a fog of guilt. Having written a shopping list, forgetting to take it with me. And so on!
Digging through my photo files I came across these Austrian musicians, playing for the holidaymakers near Ellmau. At the cafe on top the mountain, their music floated across the valley and touched the peaks either side. I can’t remember what they played- something sprightly and cheerful, encouraged by a crowd imbibing their coffee and apfelstrudel and clapping with gleeful abandon. It was a bright summer’s day, and the world seemed a very fine place. Without the photo, I might have forgotten.
Memories fade- for all sorts of reasons. We probably remember the big traumas; the happiest moments too. Without reminders, life would be poorer. And we would would learn less easily.
Israel’s long history contains lots of markers. The first Biblical reference to memorial stones comes in Genesis 28:10-22,when Jacob set up a pillar in Bethel to commemorate a powerful vision of God that he experienced while sleeping there. The experience was so striking that Jacob felt that it must be commemorated, so he erected the stone he had used as a pillow. God was here… and we wrestled until dawn…
Shrines, altars, memorial stones: they stood as witnesses to what God had done among them. Those who built them did so not just for their own benefit, but for the generations to come. Grey-whiskered grandfathers could say “Children, let me tell you a story of when we faced troubles – and God delivered us! He saved us from famines, foes and folly… Always remember this.”
Looking back keeps the memories fresh, and reignites our faith when we remember what God has done.
I have some special memories that help my faith to burn hot instead of burning into dead ashes. Let me share a couple. The Sunday I was baptised as a Christ-follower nearly fifty years ago: and a starry night at Glynde camp when a billion stars gazed down and sent my soul into awe and wonder. Responses I made to God’s self-revelation then have shaped the whole of my life. Other personal moments both of joy and of sorrow have been important in too many ways to tell. Another I remember vividly is waking after a rough night in a time of conflict- and it was as if a Voice said out loud “Go and read Psalms!” I obediently blundered off to open my Bible and the words there couldn’t have been more appropriate if an angel had spray-painted them on the wall of the living room.
When you can make some time, go on a memory hunt. Look for the holy moments, the shrines of personal meaning, the people and places that say “God was here.” The next step forward will be “God is HERE.”
Do you have a “holy place” you can go to? A place to seek and meet the Lord? A special routine or liturgy you can follow that opens you up to the awareness of the Divine Presence? If you can say “yes” – then choose to visit as often as you can. If you can’t identify some place or experience yet, why not make plans to set up your own “memorials” and holy places? Places develop a sense of holiness when you (or others) regularly go here to do “God stuff.”
Perhaps, instead of an Austrian band, you might hear the summons of angelic trumpets or choirs… and you will remember.