The Pain of Memory – The Power of MemoryRemembrance Day
Richard Wagamese writes in his novel A Quality of Light,
“When we find ourselves standing against the hushed palette of evening, searching the sky for one singular band of light, we’re filtering the spectrum of our lives. We’re looking through the magic prism of memory, letting our comforts, questions or woundings lead us… Because it’s not the memories themselves we seek to reclaim, but rather the opportunity to surround ourselves with the quality of light that lives there. The qualities of light are endless and our lives are immersed in them. That’s why we go back. That’s why we use the gift of memory to sift through it all, seeking answers to people, places and things we inhabited once, hoping we might find there a single quality of light that defines us.”
What memories define us as people of faith?
In our scripture passages we read today, Haggai tells the story of returning exiles who prioritized building their personal homes and lives and neglected the rebuilding of their faith community. 1 Thessalonians tells the story of the early church that gave up on their personal lives in order to wait for the return of the Lord which they felt was imminent. Each of the passages will serve as a helpful reminder of a healthy use of memory.
The Hebrew exiles were returning from a time they would rather forget – captivity in Egypt. As they returned home, they were now free to rebuild their lives, homes and families.
Haggai’s words, though brief, are framed with specific dates: during the 2nd year of King Darius, in the 7th month and on the 21st day of the month. This time stamp placed emphasis upon where they had been, where they were now, and more importantly what God wanted for them as a faithful community.
Haggai points their attention to the re-building of the Temple which was not going well. Upon the Israelites return home, they had poured themselves into building their homes and re-building their community. The rebuilding of the Temple, however had stalled. More specifically only a few footings had been poured suggesting their spiritual commitment had waned.
Haggai is asking them to remember the former Temple, “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?” Chances are that only a few of them might have remembered the former Temple destroyed around the time of their exile 60 years ago. For those who might have remembered what was, he asked them to compare that memory with their current lack of effort in re-building the new House of God.
Haggai is not condemning them for their failure to rebuild their worship space. His call is more foundational than a focus on a building. Greater still, Haggai calls them to a renewed commitment in re-building their community of faith. He was not asking who might remember the high ceilings, the majestic angles, or the masonry features. He challenged them to remember what mattered most, their commitment to one another as a people of faith. They had neglected the difficult work of building their community of faith since their return from isolation and destruction.
Haggai reminds the people that they are not alone in what is before them. God says, “Take courage; work, for I am with you, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.” This same promise is one they were called to remember throughout their 40 years wandering in the desert surrounded by danger and death.
The task will be difficult. It is often easier to look back and to remember the better days. Throughout their wilderness experience, the people longed to return to captivity because even in exile, they had food and shelter. This is described as a Camelot Memory or our tendency to see the past as better than it actually was.
Haggai calls them forward. “Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts.”
Haggai was only a prophet for about three months and in this verse describes a path forward. Frequently in his prophetic writings, Haggai used a specific time stamp, for example “in the second year of King Darias,” to mark time that was in sharp contrast with this reference to “in a little while.” “In a little while” seems to indicate time that is outside our control. All these things God has promised will happen in God’s time.
Do our tasks of re-building, planning, visioning, and imagining the future seem overwhelming and daunting? Do we believe that it is up to us alone to produce the resources for the tasks that lie before us? Do we believe that what God is doing among us must happen within our own marking of time?
In Thessalonians, Paul addresses the new church with admonition “we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.” Instead their focus was on Christ’s return which they believed was imminent. Their present lives had stopped because they were waiting any moment for the Lord’s return. Paul reminds them that the Lord is already here.
Paul calls them to remember what had been formative in their faith, the traditions that would keep them together and moving forward. He asked them to remember the things he told them while he was with them. “…But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you… stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us..” Remember the traditions you were taught that will continue to form your faith is the same message that Paul and Haggai had for the people.
What the memory points us to, is more important than the memory itself. What we are called to remember is what shapes us, what formed us. Today you will receive our monthly newsletter, The Link, where you will find an article by our St. Andrew’s member, Stella Higgins. She is an eyewitness to the tremendous sacrifices made by those who served our country and describes how memories define us.
Stella writes, “There is one day in World War 2 that Canadians should never forget; August 19, 1942, when so many young volunteers from Canada died on Dieppe’s pebbly beach.“
Stella recalls her visits to Dieppe on two occasions in 1969 and again in 2008. Her most vivid memory was when she went into a shop to buy a postcard. Stella recalls, “When I was about to pay for the card the saleslady refused to take my money as she realised I was from Canada. Bursting into tears she obviously was recalling what she saw on that awful day in August 1942. Between her sobbing and my limited French, I did not understand much of what she was saying. However, it was obvious she had been an observer of the slaughter.”
On Stella’s second visit, she recalls travelling with the Canadian contingent and the lone survivor of the raid. She knew it took great physical effort for him to make the journey and wondered what his memories were. He was given a hero’s welcome by the French people. We don’t share the same memory. Stella’s experience and memories of those times provides a foundation for our understanding of the significance of this Remembrance Day.