Over the past several weeks, my family members have spent a good deal of time together. We have gathered at my sister Cecele’s home and the hospital to encourage her as she battles cancer. We have gathered at her bedside to be present to her as she prepares for the journey to her final home. We have also gathered to plan the ways we will celebrate her life at her impending wake and funeral. All the while, we have engaged in reminiscing of one sort or another.
I never cease to be amazed by the particular memories that remain with us. My sisters and I share numerous recollections that bring both smiles and tears. Each of us has also managed to store images and events from the past that the rest of us were not privy to or have forgotten. Whichever the case, the particular memories that each of us treasure and the particular memories that haunt us are part and parcel of who we are today.
My husband, the good deacon, often remarks that I have a selective memory. He claims that I remember what I want to remember in the way that I want to remember it regardless of what actually happened in my past. Though I will never admit this to the dear man, I must acknowledge that there is some truth to his assessment of my recall skills. Very early on in my life, I opted to hold on to the experiences and information that were helpful to me and to dismiss those that were not. This is the reason that some things remain in the treasure chest that is my memory and that other things were discarded long ago. When my recollections disagree with those who shared given experiences with me, I can only surmise that I attended to different details of these events or that remembering the truth is simply too painful for me. Regardless of the reason for these discrepancies, the things I remember continue to be part and parcel of who I am.
In John’s gospel (John 6:24-35), Jesus has something important to say about the things we attend to and remember in this life. It is not long after Jesus fed the hungry crowd with those five barley loaves and two fish. Apparently, all concerned ate their fill because they traveled by boat to Capernaum to find Jesus once again. When they arrive, Jesus tells them that they are seeking him out, not because of the signs he has worked, but because they want Jesus to fill their stomachs. They have come to Jesus because they remember that meal and not Jesus’ marvelous message of God’s enduring mercy and love for them. Jesus tells the crowd, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”
It seems to me that Jesus understands the people’s troubles better than they understand them themselves. He understands their poverty and their lack of freedom under Roman rule. Jesus understands The Law and the restrictions imposed upon the people by the temple hierarchy. Jesus understands the frustrations that sometimes paralyze their productivity. Jesus understands their physical hunger and the gnawing hunger that troubles their very souls. Jesus also understands that his people will find peace and joy in their lives in spite of these things if only they will attend to what truly matters. For Jesus’ followers of long ago and for us, Jesus offers the message that nourishes and sustains us for the long haul. It is this message that we must take in and store in our memories and in our hearts.
When my sister Cecele embarked upon what has become her final journey, her focus changed. She has turned her attention from the minutia that once cluttered her days to the people who are most important to her. After guiding her children though some final planning and decision making, Cecele guides them further with her wisdom regarding the days and the eternity that lie ahead. She holds tightly to the memories that bring her peace and relinquishes those that are unhelpful. It has become clear that having a selective memory isn’t the worst thing while in this world or while moving on to the next. It is a soul’s selective memory that keeps her focused on the food that does not perish, but endures for eternal life. For this soul, it is my selective memory which keeps me focused upon God –the God who has always been with me and who remains at my side until I finally make my own way home.
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