As a species we are time and space bound creatures. Our bodies move us through space and provide contact with the external world while our minds provide the means of understanding the external world and give us an inner sense of self-awareness.
Now, this much seems fairly obvious but it raises an interesting question concerning the issue of self-identity: what is the ‘I’ in ‘I am feeling happy now’ or ‘I had an episode of indigestion yesterday’ or ‘I’m looking forward to my vacation in two months’? To complicate things further, how can we say we are the same person today as we were yesterday or thirty years ago when many of the identifying features of our existence have undergone physical, emotional and mental changes?
Although the details differ, most people who study this sort of thing agree that memory is one key component to the experience of self-identity. The memories I have are obviously mine and therefore provide a sense of centered experience through time. In other words, I’m quite sure I’m me today because I distinctly remember being me a few seconds ago, minutes ago, hours ago, days ago etc and having had certain experiences during those seconds, hours, days and years. The fact is our past continuously grows larger behind us while our future grows smaller the closer we come to the end of life’s journey. Memories are drawn from this ever-increasing pool of events and are vital to the kinds of expectations and potential we have in this present moment.
These issues of self-identity and memory are especially important for Christians because we have undergone the most radical change possible for a human being; we have been born again. This created second pool of memories that are sacred and identify us as “in the world but not of the world” and uniquely and forever as sons and daughter of God. And, as we progress along this new, sacred time-line of past, present and future, the way we think is radically changed; we just don’t see things the way we used to, our values and judgments are changing, our friends are new. Even though we now have memories of two different worlds at the same time it is the sacred memories around which our sense of self-identity is grounded.
The importance of memory and remembering to our spiritual lives is paradigmatically illustrated by the history of Israel. The rehearsing of history was integral toIsrael’s ongoing relationship with, and worship of, Yahweh. That is, the relationship was defined by historical events, the revelations, the covenants and the actions of Yahweh on behalf of His people. The recitation of these events was a reminder to Israel of God’s dealings with them, His promises to them, His faithfulness to them and His power and protection on their behalf. It was also a reminder of His judgments of sin, idolatry, andIsrael’s unfaithfulness. All of this gave Israel a sense of meaning, purpose, and destiny; it defined their reason for being.
So, in like manner for all of us of the New Testament, sacred memories of the Gospel history, the history of the church from its inception, our personal salvation history, the history of our local church community all provide a framework for our sacred experience now, this day, and this moment. They define who and what we have become through God’s grace. Remembering has the effect of reorienting us when the path is no longer clear. This is especially true when things aren’t going particularly well for us. The bottom line for us is this: are we remembering the attractions of our Egypt or the miracles of our past and continuing Exodus? Who we are and where we are going is in the answer.