Did you see that movie where Sinbad played a genie? It was called “Shazam”.
You didn’t? Me neither. Because such a movie was never made–it doesn’t exist. Yet...thousands of people swear that they have seen it. They have a vivid memory of watching this non-existent film. Researchers are quite puzzled as to why so many people have such a vivid recollection of something that could never have happened.
Memory...can be a tricky thing.
There’s nothing all that harmful about remembering a movie that never existed. However, in the 1980s, there was an epidemic of false memories that did a great deal of harm. People “recovered” memories of Satanic ritual abuse. Young women remembered being used by their parents as “breeders”–giving birth to children specifically so that the children could be sacrificed to the Devil. The claim was made that thousands of such babies were slain for the Devil every year. Medical exams, however, usually revealed that the young women who claimed to have borne the sacrificial babies had never actually been pregnant. The FBI studied the matter and concluded that there was no way thousands of murders a year could be successfully concealed. The “Satanic panic” was not an epidemic of ritual murder, but an epidemic of false memory. In many cases, families were torn apart as young women were certain that their fathers had abused them and sacrificed their babies to the Devil.
Memory is indeed a tricky thing.
Memory is one of God’s great gifts. St. Bonaventure once said that memory is the closest thing in this life to eternity. When St. Augustine was looking for an image for the Trinity, he suggested three powers of the human mind–memory, will and understanding. Memory is precious–it keeps the past alive. It connects us with our departed loved ones until the day we meet them again in eternity. (This is why Alzheimer’s is one of the most dreaded of diseases. It robs us of one of God’s greatest gifts). It is pleasant to recall past joys–the innocence of childhood, for instance.
The oddest things can trigger memories. In one of the greatest works of literature, Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past–which consists of seven novels–the torrent of memories is begun by the main character eating a madeleine–a French pastry. Sometimes a smell, or a song, will cause the memories to begin welling up.
In the Bible, a lot of attention is given to God’s memory. Scripture addresses the worry that God will forget us. After all, there are 7 billion people in the world as we speak–how can God remember little old me? One of my very favorite verses (which I often use at funerals) is from Isaiah 49, where the people of Israel fear that God has forgotten them. And His reply is: “Can a mother forget the child of her womb? Even if a mother could forget, I will not forget you. Behold, you are carved on the palms of my hands.” To me, this verse points toward the scars of Christ’s crucifixion–scars that were still on his body even after the resurrection. Christ’s memory of me is triggered, not by a madeleine or a song, but by the marks on his hands, feet and side. He’s not going to forget me, because He suffered for my sake! Remember, too, what the thief on the cross said to Christ: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” ( Luke 23:42) And Christ promises to remember him indeed: “I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise.” Another remembrance passage that I find interesting is from Psalm 25: “Lord, remember not the sins of my youth; but remember me in your love.” The Psalmist is trying to have it both ways! He wants God to forget something...and He wants God to remember something. Don’t remember my sins. But remember me. The Psalmist wants to have his cake and eat it too! And the amazing thing is–that’s exactly what God does! He forgets our sins .“You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:9). “ I will blot out your transgressions for my own sake, and will not remember your sins”. (Isaiah 43:25). But even as He forgets our sins, He remembers us! I spoke earlier of “false memory”. There is nothing “false” with God, of course. He is eternal Truth. But when it comes to us, His memory is selective. “I will not remember your sins.” God’s selective memory is caused by Christ’s death on the cross for our salvation.
The Bible also talks a lot about our memory. We are called upon to always remember God. George Burns in “O God!” said, “Moses had a really bad memory. So I gave Him tablets.” The written Scriptures indeed are a continual reminder to us of God’s will and God’s love. Our worship, too, is meant to remind us of how God has shown us love and given us salvation. “Remembering” is one of the most important concepts in both Jewish and Christian worship. In the Passover, remembering the Exodus from Egypt leads to reliving the Exodus from Egypt. The worshiper may live 4000 years after the event, but by remembering the event, it becomes part of his reality. Not just the forefathers, but he or she was personally rescued by God from Egypt. Something similar happens for us in Holy Communion. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus tells us. When we remember Him, the Crucified One, then His cross becomes a reality for us today. 2,000 years are bridged, and the body broken for us and the blood shed for us come into our lives today. When we remember Christ in the Sacrament, then we are touched by His precious body and blood.
Memory, then, is one of the central aspects of our faith. God remembers us (but forgets our sin!) And we remember His holy love in Jesus.
Now pass me one of those madeleines...
God loves you and so do I!