Of all the memories I have, I ran from one memory in particular for decades, its wreckage surfacing periodically in the waters of my soul – ugly pieces covered in sharp barnacles, full of wormholes, severely waterlogged. Over the years, I tried to remove the pieces on my own, struggling under their weight, injured in the process by their rough surface. One day, almost drowning in the wreckage around me, I gathered the pieces in desperation and flung them far into other waters – the waters of God’s limitless ocean of Mercy, the very ocean that flowed as blood and water from Jesus’s pierced side as He hung on the cross. It was only then He revealed to me the divine hidden amid the wreckage.
There is another I cling to, its embers stirring periodically in the fire of my soul – tiny pieces glowing with hot intensity, waiting to be rekindled, flame ablaze. Like a pouting, spoiled brat who doesn’t want to hand over the cookie jar, I hold fast. Tucked safely in the depths of my heart, it mustn’t consume, yet it must be remembered. I fight to keep it balanced there, fearing the treasured details will fade, never to be felt again. Jesus, knowing my stubbornness, waits patiently, but His questioning is persistent. “What will you choose?” “Not yet,” I beg, knowing full well that until I do, He cannot reveal the divine hidden amid the beauty.
In all of God’s extraordinary creation, only humanity has the ability to reminiscence or recollect. “To be human is to have a collection of memories that tells you who you are and how you got there.” (Rosecrans Baldwin) In our weakened humanity, we are sometimes unwillingly bound to memories that are forced upon us. As an event unfolds and rushes into our minds like an avalanche, we feel helpless against the onslaught of each vivid detail. Those are the memories we run from, pushing them deep into the dark recesses of our minds the moment they try to surface. “Memories have huge staying power, but like dreams, they thrive in the dark, surviving for decades in the deep waters of our minds like shipwrecks on the sea bed.” (J. G. Ballard) Diving deep into the waters of that sea creates memories of its own, ones with perhaps too great a price tag. So, we flounder about on the surface, avoiding the wreckage that floats around us. “For people like me, who have blocked out a chunk of their past, you wonder – if you open that door, if you walk into that room of your memories, what will happen? Will it destroy you or will it make you stronger?” (Tim Daly)
The other side of our humanity cherishes the memories that make life meaningful. We strive to capture moments in photographs, even though the images will never match our experience. Entries are written in diaries and journals, the writer hoping to memorialize the event despite the limitations of written language. Mementos are placed with love in carefully chosen boxes or containers, their existence a tangible reminder of what we fear we will forget. And those definable moments that are incapable of being captured are etched into the very fibers of our hearts and minds. Frozen in time, we visit the memory again and again, hoping to relive the experience in its completeness.
All memories, from the most horrifying to the most beautiful, have one defining characteristic. Trapped within the boundaries of time, those moments can neither be erased nor can they be duplicated. It is then we realize there is a letting go, a sacrifice, hidden deep within those memories. It is a letting go of our ability to change or remove that which we wish could be forgotten for all eternity. It is a letting go of our ability to transcend time and space to embrace and relive that which we hold dear. Limited by our humanness, we must accept the sacrifice of letting go, lest it crush us under its weight or eat us alive with desire.
There is One, however, whose memories will never be limited by the confines of time. Sharing in our humanity, His mortal life was subject to time, but His divine life is as present to us as when He walked this earth. The events of His life – from the horror of His crucifixion to the beauty in His miracles – are living, tangible events, not mere memories passed on through the ages. Through the grace of His divinity, we can enter into those events and experience them today just as if we were present 2000 years ago. “…and all that Christ is – all that He did and suffered for all men – participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being present in them all.” (Catechism, 1085) Seem impossible? “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) Knowing our need for His presence and as living proof, He left us with tangible signs where we can encounter Him not only through our intellect, but also touch Him through our senses: the washing waters of Baptism, the sanctifying oil of Confirmation, the transforming bread and wine of the Eucharist. He gave us signs tested by science: the Shroud of Turin and the numerous miracles of the Eucharist. What lengths He has gone to prove His presence to us, even commanding us to do likewise. “Do this in memory of Me.” (Luke 22:19)
Just as we can enter each moment of His life, He is present in each moment of our lives, whether we believe it or not. Every moment and every memory of every moment is a chance to meet Him. That memory that hides in the darkness, afraid of being discovered, afraid of being struggled with, afraid of being brought into the light, can be brought into His Passion and Crucifixion. He has already agonized over it in the Garden. He has already conquered it on the Cross. That memory that hides in the heart, afraid it will never be felt again, afraid it will consume, afraid it will fade, can be brought into His Glorious Resurrection. He has already seen its beauty and promise. He has already felt its strength and power.
Whether we are frantically running away from our memories or desperately clinging to them, it is only when we are ready to make the sacrifice of letting go, of choosing to live in the present moment fully, that we can see the marvelous new beginning He is calling us to, birthed from the memories of our lives.
As we journey through Lent, what memories are you running from?
Can you kneel with Our Lord in the Garden and let go?
Can you place them at His feet and surrender while He looks at you with love from the Cross?
As we anticipate and celebrate Easter, what memories do you cling to?
Can you relinquish them to the power of His resurrection and believe He can raise them up to reveal their beauty?
Can you trust His promise to make all things new?