What Does It Mean To Be A People of Memory?
We start this month with the words of a Soul Matters participant who wants to remain anonymous:
“So I was out for a walk this afternoon and got to thinking a little more about memory, and about the various ways in which we are called back to some previous event or feeling, especially through scent (a certain combination of rotting orange peels and other vegetation takes me right back to the market in Dar es Salaam, and sun on pine needles takes me back to our summer hideouts in the woods) or music, which is so much easier to remember than prose. I think especially of the song, “In the Still of the Night,” which I can sing verbatim, because when I was in junior high we used to take class field trips from White Plains to NYC and sing it all the way there.
It’s all got me thinking about what is it that takes you back, and where it takes you – and, most importantly, how this remembering feels holy? “In the Still of the Night” wasn’t holy, exactly, but it represented community, a whole busload of kids singing together, getting beyond the teenage cliques and the need to be popular or cool. There are other memories that take me directly to the holy – dark vaulted rafters, from a church in Philadelphia where I went for a youth conference. Sitting in the Sunday morning service, I had my first real experience of the presence of God in those rafters – as a total agnostic, if not atheist at that point in my life. Or standing on a mountain trail in the sunlight, totally alone feeling the immensity and the holiness of the moment, the glory of the mountains and the vastness of the sky. All of them are memories that have enormous power in my life still.”
Our friend asks, “What is it that takes you back, and where does it take you?” These may be our most important questions this month. “What takes you back?” invites us to see memory as having its own volition. Not a skill we manipulate, but a sacred energy that “wants” something from us, or “hopes” something for us. And “Where does it take you?” Well, that’s a big question too. The space of memory is elusive. Mysterious. Seemingly beyond our grasp. Who can really say “where” it is? But here’s what we do know: it is in the space of memory that we are somehow held together, and also re-assembled. As we remember, we are re-membered. In that space, memories become these self-animated threads that weave the pieces and parts of us into this more complete thing we call “me” and “you.”
It’s so humbling, and remarkable!
Which makes it all the more sad that throughout much of our history, we Unitarian Universalists have not been overly nice to memory. We’ve given it the label, “tradition,” and treated it mostly as something that holds us back. Tradition, we say, cuts us off from a direct experience with the holy and tries to shape us rather than allowing us the freedom to shape ourselves. This attitude has left us, as a faith, wary of the past, depicting it simply as a place where one gets stuck.
But this is changing, and our Soul Matters friend captures this change perfectly. For her the past is not a place that traps us; it’s more like soil that clings tightly to our roots in order to nourish and stabilize us. If memory had a voice, it wouldn’t sing “remember me.” It would call out, “don’t forget who you are.”
And so, friends, this month, may that be our charge: To allow memory to flow through us in order that it may patch us back together and keep us whole.
Happy re-membering, re-assembling and re-collecting!
Our Spiritual Exercises
Option A :
The Memento That Matters
We all have one: a memento that holds one of our favorite memories. The physicality of these objects somehow gives our memories more “substance” and staying power. But they also have a way of getting knocked off the mantle or tucked away in a dusty closet. We lose them. And in doing so, we forget.
So you are invited this month to spend some time dusting off one of your treasured “memory objects” and getting it back into clear view. What value, relationship, aspiration needs to return to the center of your life? What object symbolizes this for you? Maybe it’s a picture of your family that needs put back on your office desk to remind you that your heart lies somewhere other than that desk. Maybe it’s the peace sign t-shirt from your “radical days.” Maybe it’s that old pair of pointe shoes that used to hang by your dresser. Maybe it’s that old train car—the first one your dad bought for you and soon became part of that miniature railroad you and he built together. Whatever it is. Find it and return it to its central place, so it can return those memories back to you.
Bring your memento to the group and be ready to share what surprised you most about the adventure of finding it once again.
Some inspiration to help you along your way…
- Six tips for using mementos to keep happy memories vivid:
- Childhood Mementos You Should Keep:
- What is your favorite family memento?
Your Earliest Memory
What’s your earliest memory? Spend some time this month not only remembering it but exploring why you remember it. A simple way to do this is to ask: Why have I held on to this memory for so long? Why has it been holding on to me? What it is trying to give me? Who helped me remember it? Keep in mind that you’re not trying to remember your most profound memory; just your first.
Come to your group ready to share not only the story of this first memory but – more importantly – the story of how it’s shown up throughout your life with little nudges and reminders of its own.
To help you on your way, make some time for this visual meditation: http://www.exploratorium.edu/memory/earlymemory/index.html
And here are some additional resources to help you dig deeper:
- The weird science behind our earliest memories:
- Why do memories stick into adulthood?
- What’s Your Earliest Memory?
- Remembering, by William Stafford
The Memory Shared at Your Funeral
Our dance with memory is about looking forward as well as looking back. Our life is driven not just by the desire to collect good memories, but also by the hope that we will be remembered well. Memory’s question is not just “Do you remember?” but “How do you want to be remembered?”
So this month, you are invited to become a bit more aware of how you want to be remembered. Here’s your focus question:
If you had to limit the memories shared at your funeral to three,
what would they be?
And here’s the additional twist: before you answer that questions, make room for three conversations:
- Ask your spouse or life-partner what three memories they would to tell
- Ask your child or parent which three they’d pick.
- Ask your newest or oldest friend what’d they’d choose.
After comparing the results of all three conversations, make your three picks. Of course, the exercise is less about what you pick and more about the similarities and differences between everyone’s selections. Come to your group ready to share what surprised you about the conversations and how they shaped your final three picks.
Some inspiration to help you along your way…
- Live for Your Eulogy not Your Resume:
- Remembering That One Day You Will Die – Video Meditation
- Memento Mori — How Remembering Your Mortality Improves Your Life
- The App That Reminds You You’re Going to Die
Ten Things to Remember
From a spiritual perspective, memory is not just about holding pictures of the past in our head; it’s also about holding on to our core values. There’s a reason we say, “I need to remember who I am.” Indeed, this has long been the way UUs think about church. Church, for us, is the place where we come to remember who we are.
To honor and engage this, you are invited to spend some time this month “reminding yourself who you are” by making a simple list of “10 Things to Remember.” Think of it as self-talk. As your better self-helping your forgetful self-return to your center. Pull out a sheet of paper or pull up a document on your computer and type out a list numbered 1-10. Then spend the month filling it in with 10 pieces of wisdom or advice that are important to you but that you also often forget.
Bring this “spiritual reminder list” with you to your group and be ready to share the 3 items on the list that were most surprising or engaging.
Here are some example reminders to get you thinking:
- Remember that failure stings but regret haunts.
- Remember that assuming good intentions is not only correct but also often creates good intentions.
- Remember to “want what you have.”
- Remember you always have a choice.
- Remember you’ve already received a death sentence.
- Remember that everyone is carrying pain, even if you can’t see it, so we must be kind, in every single case.
- Remember to always buy the good chocolate and good beer. There will be other ways to balance the budget.
- Remember that grace and goodness don’t always win, but they also can’t ever be completely erased. They linger in the corners, so never stop looking.
- Remember that you’re not the only one that feels like an imposter. They only look like they have it all together.
- Remember that you’ve already “made it” and you’re already enough. So you can put the striving and the proving down whenever you want.
Remembering Where You Came From
Remembering who we want to be is tied up with remembering where we’ve come from. Holding on to our roots keeps us rooted. It’s also keeps us connected to gratitude and humility. To remember where you’ve come from is to remember that you didn’t create yourself or earn your successes all on your own. Remembering where you’ve come from is also a way to celebrate your uniqueness.
So this month, spend some time teasing out the unique roots that make you who you are…by writing a poem about where you’ve come from!
Don’t worry; it’s not as intimidating as it first may sound. Poet George Ella Lyon has already laid the ground for us with her poem, Where I’m from. Following her poem’s structure, hundreds of writers and students have written their own.
Here’s Lyon’s poem:
Read by author: http://www.georgeellalyon.com/audio/where.mp3
Here are examples of the poems others have made using Lyon’s as a guide:
And if you want, here’s a cheat sheet to guide you on your way:
As always, don’t treat these questions like “homework” or a list that needs to be covered in its entirety. Instead, simply pick the one question that speaks to you most and let it lead you where you need to go. The goal is to figure out what being a part of a people of memory means for you and your daily living. So, which question is calling to you? Which one contains “your work”? Where is it trying to lead you?
- What memory has been with you the longest? What does it want from you so badly that it has held on this long?
- How has your memory changed as you’ve grown older? Do you think of childhood memories more or less? Is it stories or images you now remember more? Has your confidence about the accuracy of your memory grown or lessened? Or is that no longer a question you worry so much about, as long as the “truth” of those memories remain?
- Has memory ever made you smarter? We think of memory as a warehouse or scrapbook, but for many of us it serves as a teacher and tutor. How has that been true for you?
- Has memory ever set you free? For some of us, all it takes is seeing that swing from our childhood in our mind’s eye. Or our favorite dog running with abandon. Or that image of staring at the purple sunrise on the river while fishing with our grandfather. When life starts feeling small, depleted or threatening, what memory do you turn to to remember that open doors are all over the place?
- What memories have been entrusted to you? Families pass down stories. Old friends look to one another to remember each other’s childhoods. Spouses safely house their vulnerable stories and secrets with each other. We are all protectors and sustainers of memories that keep pieces and parts of others alive. What precious memory have you been asked to keep alive?
- What memory will die with you if you don’t pass it on? Is this the month you finally make a concrete plan to make sure it lives on the memory of another?
- What memory holds your truest self? For some, it comes from childhood, like that time we were handed a paintbrush and canvas and felt a strange sense of home. For others it is from our adult adventures, maybe that time we bravely walked away. We don’t just have personality traits, we hold tight to our defining traits through memory. What memories help you hold on to yourself?
- What is your favorite shared memory? Memory is the glue that binds our friendships, marriages and partnerships. Is it time to take your friend or partner out for lunch to reminisce and toast the way that memory’s magic has held you together?
- Is it time to admit that your memory may not be the complete picture of what happened?
- What if the question isn’t, “Did it really happen that way?” But instead, “Why do you want to remember that it happened that way?”
- Are you ok with the person you used to be? Have you been working a bit too hard to wipe the “previous you” from your memory? They say none of you gets to walk through the door unless you’re willing to bring all of you in.
- What do you do to remind yourself that you did not make yourself? What practice do you use to remember that you stand on the shoulders of countless others?
- Have you figured out the story you want to be remembered by?
- Does fall come with its own set of memories? Do you remember differently this time of year?
- What has life taught you about memory and pain? It is said that time does not heal all wounds but gives us the tools to endure them. Has this been true for you? Is there someone in your life that needs this message?
- What’s your question? Your question may not be listed above. As always, if the above questions don’t include what life is asking from you, spend the month listening to your days to hear it.