Memory Matters

In the 1980’s Barbara Mandrell released a hit song: “I was country, when country wasn’t cool.” She sang about how her early life featured all the elements of a country music song—including the tough times, long before the music went mainstream and elements of her lifestyle made their way into popular culture.

In the early days of the pandemic, I’ve had a similar rueful sense of déjà vu. When in 2016 family illness came, first for my mother and then my father, my life played out like a personal pilot of the pandemic. One day everything was normal; the next, reality as I knew it was unraveled. In a short span of time I found myself unemployed, isolated eighty miles from my friends and colleagues, without income or financial security. Both parents went to the ICU. My mother, after months in the hospital followed by rehab, would finally return home; my father would not.

I heard in my head all the voices playing out in the media today, from to denial to despair to determination. “This can’t be happening!” “This isn’t real!” “Maybe I will wake up to find it is only a bad dream!” “Any moment now things will be back to normal…” “I’ve got to find a way to get out of this.”

In an effort to find God in the darkness, I would turn on Christian radio on my drive to and from the hospital. Lines from a Danny Gokey song said it best:

Shattered, like you’ve never been before.
The life you’ve known, in a million pieces on the floor…

It was surprising how quickly life as I knew it went from present to past; how quickly the house of cards in which I was living collapsed. “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

But Danny Gokey’s song continues:

Let every moment, and every scar,
Be a picture that reminds you Who has carried you thus far.
For Love sees farther, than you ever could
At this moment heaven’s working everything for your good.

What saved me was memory.

Remembering the good that God had done at other times in my life. How from dismay and disasters He had raised new and greater things. This was not just my personal experience, but the theme of all of salvation history: human plans and projects brought to nothing; God rescuing, restoring, resurrecting.

In today’s First Reading, God laments the “stiff-necked” people who have turned from the One who brought them out of Egypt, worshipping instead an idol made of melted-down gold. They can’t see Him in the present because they can’t remember Him in the past.

Throughout history we have seen a God who was with His people, even when they chose not to see or to seek Him. We see God from dust making man; from the ashes of sin making Him new, again and again.

In the life of the Church we see this too; God using both saints and sinners to effect a plan that neither had the capacity to imagine. God bringing good from evil, bringing good to even greater good. So many of the saints suffered not only dark nights but periods of abject failure, when it seemed that all was lost, that their work and plans had borne no fruit. But God was growing something greater. We see God’s protection, not from all evil, but in spite of all evil. The fact that the Church has survived two millennia of sinners, is a testimony to the protection and providence of God.

The more we recognize God’s presence in our past, the more we find His peace in the present.

Remembering with gratitude past gifts and graces makes present peace possible. As I recall the goodness of God in the past, I am better able to trust Him with the future.

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