And So Life Is
The Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler was famous for beginning counseling sessions with new clients by asking, “What is your earliest memory?” No matter how his patient replied, Adler responded, “And so life is.” Adler believed that our earliest memories leave a profound imprint on our souls. For better or for worse, it can be very difficult to escape their gravitational pull. Our earliest memories have unusual staying power.
The Cursed Lawnmower
One day a pastor went to a yard sale and found a lawnmower. It seemed in decent-enough shape and the owner said it worked, so the pastor ultimately decided to buy it, and not for very much either.
After a quick review of the machine, the pastor filled it with gas and was ready to take it on its maiden voyage. Unfortunately, after a few pumps on the fuel line and a pull of the cord, nothing happened. The pastor pulled a few more times and finally gave up.
Thankfully, the yard sale was still happening and the pastor, now quite exasperated, asked for his money back. “This machine doesn’t work!”
“Well,” the man said, “I did forget to tell you one thing about this lawnmower—it only works if you curse at it.”
“Curse at it,” the pastor said, “I can’t do that!” I’m a man of the cloth. I don’t even know if I can curse anymore. It’s been so long.”
The man smiled and said, “Just keep pulling that rope, Pastor. It’ll come back to you.”
Original Source Unknown, Stuart Strachan Jr.
The Gettysburg Address & Identity Formation
Why is it that countless American school-children memorize the Gettysburg Address each year? Is it a simple civics lesson? An opportunity to learn about the Civil War, a turning point in American history? Yes, it is each of those things, but also much more. The memorization of that short (just two-minute) speech is also an act of identity formation. It is a chance for students to connect to both the ideals and the aspirations of the people who founded this country. This is how Lincoln begins his speech:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
The Gettysburg Address provides an opportunity for every American child who remembers its words to internalize the values and aspirations of their country. As they recite the address, it becomes a part of them.
When the church goes through its liturgy each week, whether it be “high” or “low,” its people are engaging in similar identity formation, through a reenactment of the life of Christ and his call to the church. When we perform the sacraments, we also engage in identity formation, from baptism to the Lord’s Supper. We are reminded of our sin, God’s sending of His Son, and the sacrifice that leads to our reconciliation with the Father. All of this done through the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us.
Stuart Strachan Jr.
Memorizing Scripture, in Greek
The eminent British New Testament scholar C. H. Dodd (1884–1973) was once asked if, supposing all written copies of the Greek New Testament were either lost or destroyed, he could reproduce the whole thing from memory. Dodd replied that, having lived with the Greek New Testament for so long, he was confident that he could indeed remember it all. In one account of the same story, the questioner responded with utter amazement: how could someone possibly claim to be able to recall the whole thing, in Greek no less? ‘Well,’ Dodd is said to have replied, with a comical mixture of humility and coyness, ‘it’s only a little book.’
The Problem of Forgetfulness
One of humanity’s problems is forgetfulness. Forgetfulness can happen at multiple levels, from a simple problem of recall to a posture of hard-heartedness and disobedience toward the command-giver. When God deals with the people of Israel throughout the Old Testament, God does not merely say, “This is God.” Rather, we often read, “This is the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt.” It is a reminder, to a forgetful people (which we all are), what it is that God has done for us.
C.S. Lewis reiterates this problem in the Narnian book The Silver Chair, when Aslan teaches Jill to repeat His instructions in order that should would not forget them. “‘Child’ Aslan says… ‘perhaps you do not see quite as well as you think. But the first step is to remember. Repeat to me, in order, the four signs.’” Like most of us, Jill soon forgets, and her and her companions’ journey is forever altered.
God gives us a variety of practices to remember. Sabbath, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Each exists to remind us of some significant aspect of our faith and the God who created, redeemed, and sustains us each day. So the question for us to answer is, will we remember?
Stuart Strachan Jr.
A Redemptive Memory
In her excellent little book (Mythical Me), Richella Parham describes the importance of looking on the past with grace:
Developing a redemptive memory requires recalling not only the pain of the past but also the joy, seeing both the problems and the solutions, seeking to spot the ways that God has provided even in the midst of difficult situations.
A redemptive memory enables me to face the facts of the past as well as my own feelings. I work at comprehending the truth that God always has loved me and always will love me. A friend of mine says that we should always look for “evidences of grace,” and I’ve found it enormously helpful to remember my past with a specific goal of recognizing God’s help. Now that I’ve had some practice in looking back in this way. I’ve gotten better and better at spotting patterns of provision.
Where Ought I Be?
The great writer G.K. Chesterton’s mind was so preoccupied that he frequently forgot to keep appointments. He relied on his wife in all practical matters. Once on a lecture tour he sent her the following telegram: “Am in Birmingham. Where ought I to be?” She wired back: “Home.”
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Memory. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!