Recently I came across some of the latest ideas regarding memory. Ever fearful of losing our memories, there is an increasing market for ‘memory training’ with supporters and sceptics on both sides. One view says that just being socially active keeps our brains ticking and memories forming and being recalled. The intriguing thing however is that some research is now saying that as we get older, our memories from our early life come sharply into focus. Called the ‘reminiscence effect’, it seems that the most vivid and precious memories of older people are from their childhood and early adulthood. People are not sure why this happens. One interesting aspect however with the reminis-cence effect is that memories return which have hitherto been ‘forgotten’. For some reason, we ac-cess them again – we remember. I wonder what I’ll suddenly recall that hasn’t been part of my con-sciousness for the past decades? Fascinating.
We come to the end of the Church Year and as I sit and write, I don’t remember too much of the details. I’d have to use my diaries to confirm what I was doing when and I’m afraid I’d have to look up what I preached last Lent! I can recall some events but know I’ve forgotten more. Nevertheless with a trigger or a nudge, I’m sure more would be remembered and while I don’t remember most of the words I’ve said, I know the contours or landscape, the boundaries and the direction of the messages I’ve given. That message and its history is beyond my life time – more like 2000 years old – and even beyond that – and it isn’t a matter of me remembering but of me passing on what I’ve received.
There is a Chinese proverb attributed to Confucius which says ‘The palest ink is better than the best memory’. That presupposes that the ink is truthful but the point is still well made, I think. And as we stand looking back on the past year and also wondering what the next Church Year will bring for those standing under the cross, there is the Word of God. I’m talk-ing first of all about the Word made flesh – Jesus who is alive and with his people – and then I’m talking about the written Scriptures which reveal him. Of course we can’t separate the two. Because of our poor memories and no doubt because of desire for the spiritually spec-tacular, Jesus binds himself to these words we read in the Bible and to water, bread and wine when used as he said. And as we keep reading – hopefully not faded ink – we can look back over our life – past the 30, 40 50, 60 years (or whatever age we are) – back further in time to the cross. That’s our reference point, anchor, lighthouse – whatever image ‘works’ for you – for our identity and the meaning and purpose of our life. So whenever we remember – look back in over our lives – the good and bad of it – the joy and shame – we relearn (remember?) that this Jesus is faithful and patient and kind and guiding and challenging and merciful and gracious and persistent towards us. No matter what I remember, there’s a cross and a font that says to me personally that God is not going to abandon me. And if he hasn’t done so yet, it’s not going to happen in the future. So we look forward to the new Church Year with confi-dence. — GS