One way or another, we are always remembering. There is no escaping it even if we want to, or at least no escaping it for long. In one sense the past is dead and gone, never to be repeated - over and done with, but in another sense, it is of course not done with at all or at least not done with us. Every person we have ever known, every place we have ever seen, everything that has ever happened to us – it all lives and breathes deep in us somewhere whether we like it or not, and sometimes it doesn't take much to bring it back to the surface in bits and pieces. A scrap of some song, a book we read, a stretch of road we used to travel, an old photo or letter… there’s no telling what trivial thing may do it, and then suddenly, there it all is.
We are all such escape artists, you and I. We don’t like to get too serious about things, especially about ourselves. When we are with other people, we are apt to talk about almost anything under the sun except what really matters to us, except our own lives, except what is going on inside our own skins. We pass the time of day. We chatter. We hold each other at bay, keep our distance from each other even when God knows it is precisely each other that we desperately need.
We cling to the surface out of fear of what lies beneath it. And why not, after all? We get tired. We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need I think, to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive to ourselves - to the long journeys of our lives with all their twists and turns and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember – the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we consciously remember the lives we have lived.
So much has happened to us, within us and through us all over the years. We are to take time to remember what we can about it and what we dare. That’s what entering the room means, I think. It means taking time to remember on purpose. It means not picking up a book for once or turning on the radio, but letting the mind journey gravely, deliberately, back through the years that have gone by but are not gone. Nobody knows the trouble any of us have seen – the hurt, the sadness, the bad mistakes, the crippling losses – but we know it. We are to remember it.
We have survived, you and I. Maybe that is at the heart of our remembering. We have made it to this year, this day. We needn’t have made it. There were times we never thought we would and nearly didn’t. There were times we almost hoped we wouldn’t, were ready to give the whole thing up. I can say for myself that I have seen sorrow and pain enough to turn the heart to stone. Who hasn’t? Many times I have chosen the wrong road, or the right road for the wrong reason. Many times I have loved the people I love too much. I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own heart, yet often when my heart called out to me to be brave, kind, and honest; I have not followed at all.
To remember my life is to remember countless times when I might have given up and gone under, when humanly speaking I might have gotten lost beyond the power of any to find me. But I didn’t. I have not given up. And each of you, with all the memories you have and the tales you could tell, you also have not given up. You also are survivors and are here. And what does that tell us, our surviving? It tells us that weak as we are, a Strength beyond our strength has pulled us through at least this far. Foolish as we are, a Wisdom beyond our wisdom has flickered up just often enough to light us to the right path. Faint of heart as we are, a Love beyond our power to love has kept our hearts alive.
So in the room called Remember, it is possible to find peace that comes from looking back and remembering that though most of the time we failed to see it, we were never really alone. We could never have made it this far if we had had only each other to depend on, because nobody knows better than we do ourselves the undependability and frailty of even the strongest of us.
King David cried out, “O give thanks to the Lord, make known His deeds among the peoples! Remember the wonderful works that he has done.” REMEMBER was the song David sang, and what a life David had to remember! His failure as a husband and a father, his lust for Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, his crime against Naboth… all his failures, his betrayals, his hypocrisy. But “Tell of His salvation from day to day”, his song continued nonetheless and continued all his life. I take him to mean not just that the telling was to take place from day to day, but that salvation itself takes place from day to day. Every day, as David remembered, he had been somehow saved – saved enough to survive his own darkness and lostness and folly, saved enough to go on through thick and thin to the next day and the next day’s saving and the next.
It is the Lord, it is God, who has been with us through all our days and years whether we knew it or not, though more often than not we had forgotten his name.
To remember the past is to see that we are here today by grace, that we have survived as a gift. “Remember the wonderful works that He has done,” goes David’s song – remember what He has done in the lives of each of us; and beyond that remember what he has done in the life of the world; remember above all what he has done in Christ; remember those moments in our own lives when with only the dullest understanding but with the sharpest longing we have glimpsed that Christ’s kind of life is the only life that matters and that all other kinds of life are riddled with death; remember those moments in our lives when Christ came to us in countless disguises through people who one way or another strengthened us, comforted, healed us by the power of Christ alive within them. All that is the past and what we remember. And BECAUSE that is the past, BECAUSE we remember, we have this high and holy hope: that what He has done, He will continue to do, that what He has begun in us and our world, He will in unimaginable ways bring to fullness and fruition.
“Let the sea roar, and all that fills it, let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy,” says David. And SHALL is the verb of hope. Then death SHALL be no more, neither SHALL there be mourning or crying. Then SHALL my eyes behold him and not as a stranger. Then His kingdom SHALL come at last and his will SHALL be done in us and through us and for us.
Remember and hope. Remember and wait. Wait for Him whose face all of us know because somewhere in the past we have faintly seen it, whose life all of us thirst for because somewhere in the past we have seen it lived or have maybe even had moments of living it ourselves. Remember him who himself remembers us. To have faith is to remember and wait, and to wait in hope is to have what we hope for already begin to come true in us through our hoping. Praise Him.
- Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark