The Whisper of Memories

Rev. Dr. Peter Keith

(9/1/2009) What was it about that place, those people, that time? What was it about a fleeting moment among all the countless moments we have lived? Was it the light and warmth of the evening, or the sound of the wind through the grass, or the deep, resounding laughter shared? The kind that makes you cry and breathe deeply. A pleasure, even when your side hurts and it takes a second or two to compose yourself.

Was the time simply ripe for the placement of what may have been only a mundane experience into the storage of lifetime memories, being jogged into recall through the hearing of song on the radio? That same song that played while you rode in your father's car and he noticed its melody, and turned up the volume and whistled along. He seemed happy, and that made you happy. And you were content, and felt safe.

The smell of clover in an open field that reminds us of a youthful summer day, or the sight of some silly souvenir that give us the image of the day that brought you to it. And you remember the prodding of your girlfriend that compelled you to buy it. The stare out the open window, giving to us the daydreams of people we thought forgotten, feeling surprised and bringing a slight smile, amused for the remembrance. The things we remember.

Our memories. They belong to us as nothing else. They are ours, though perhaps shared, but always a part of what makes us who we are. No matter what we may share with others: common interest, vocation, marriage, parents, brothers, sisters, attitudes, or age. No matter what we may share with others, it is our memories that we alone can claim.

Our memories. They are notes from the record of our past. Written from events and encounters. Seen through the lenses of our own particular view of the world.

Should we wonder what it is about the times in our lives that pass unnoticed, to later discover in memory that they have not gone away? As we remember, those moments from so long ago.

And so we remember. With pleasant feeling, yet mixed with gentle lament, we understand that those times that gave the memory are past. We believe gone.

We wonder what it was about those times, those places and people. What was it that motivated us to say that day an unkind, even cruel word to a friend? Hurting them. Possibly so completely that in the few seconds it took to speak them our words cut so personally you realized even then that a lifetime of apologies might never reclaim them to you.

The hurt we have caused, and the hurt we have known. The flow of time, those written pages turn one after another until we believe them over and finished; left to another chapter. But then comes our memory. Coming to the front of our thoughts. Thumbing through our book and finding that page we would rather not read again. And the memory brings us back to something we would most certainly prefer to forget.

In the going of our lives we pick and choose. We make decisions and we take and miss opportunity. We are influenced by our environment and exercise our free will for self-determination. We sometimes find ourselves on a road we know we should not travel. And we usually hope that the one we are on is the one we are meant to follow. Along our way we have had those fields of clover, and mixed in with all the sweetness there is the truth of our missed chances for that something we suspect would have brought us happiness. We have chosen immediate gratification to true opportunity. We have make wrong decisions that have walked with us, all our lives, no matter how fast we may try and run leave them in the dust.

Our life moments get placed in the past. Where they belong. The inconsequential. The unnecessary, useless, the work of living that is about survival and not growth are put where they belong; in the past.

It is such a wonderful and beautiful part of us. Our memories. Perhaps bitter, perhaps sweet. It's as though a figure of flickering images from long ago catches up to us as we walk, and taps us on the shoulder and whispers, "you thought I was gone?"

It is nice bring forward pleasant memories. We appreciate them when they invade our thoughts. We have that brief feeling of wonderment. We welcome them. We are surprised for the fact that the name of a childhood classmate comes forth, or how the smell of honey may bring us back to a breakfast table with people who have gone. It is with pleasure we consider these kinds of memories. They are like sunlight making its way through closed and sleepy eyes. It wakes us, and gives us one of those un-contemplated realizations that life is indeed holy and beautiful. Sweet memories remind us. Life is beautiful.

Then there are the other kinds. In our later years we entertain a foolish regret for all the things a person may regret. The kind of regret we shrug, and shake and force ourselves to be realistic and know that there is nothing now to be done. We have chosen our roads, we believe. We cannot change, we believe. There is no other way to go, we so sadly believe. Is it that companion memory? Walking with us, whispering, "Look how you once were. Look at what happened the last time you tried to live that life you want. Remember how you did not become whatever your notion told you should become!"

This memory. It keeps up no matter how much you try to ignore it, do not speak to it, turn your nose up at it's presence. It shuffles along, moving just as fast as you. And in its insidious way tells you that you do not deserve to turn your life in a new direction. And then we may slow. We stop walking. We start to believe. And it is then that it brings from behind its back the chains it wraps around our feet. We walk even more slowly and we belong to it. It owns us. The bitterness of those remembrances linger. They may even overcome and still the sweet memories we savor when they arise and appear.

The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes is written with an implication of resignation to the vicissitudes of life. Life is a matter for the wind. It moves and changes and becomes what we want and what we do not want. Our life lived out is ultimately beyond our decisions for it. No matter how much we like to think we are completely self-determining, we are not. And wisdom, it tells, is found in the acceptance of this truth. The writer brings to us a particular refrain of the times for every matter under heaven. We are told that there is a time to be born and a time to die. There is a time to weep and a time and a time to laugh. And, that there is a time to mourn and a time to dance.

It is vital. There is an imperative that this passage not be confused with some type of prescription for a pre-destined order of our lives. The writer is not suggesting that we have a specific time to be born, or die. And, so on. We are not being asked to believe that there is a set time for any event in our lives. He is expressing a theology in the observation that our lives move along with the flow of time. Like an arrow flying in only one direction, time moves relentlessly on. But, and this is important, each event in our lives happened only when they happened. It may seem rather obvious, but the point being made is that everything that has happened in our lives is now in the past. And, that everything that will happen will happen in our future. Everything actually happens now. Everything. Not in the past, not in the future. He is telling us, by way of a certain prose something that is common sense, but that we miss. Life is lived now. It is not in the past. It is not in the future. Life is now.

We are born. We will die. We have loved, and we will love. We have even hated, and it may be that we will express hatred again. We will mourn, and I'd wager that we will all find an occasion in our lives that the only response is to dance. Everything has its time.

We recognize in the wisdom of this book the perspective taken by the writer. He is profound in the obvious. We are told that we live now, and that we have a past, and we have a future. But all of them, the past, the present and the future all belong to God.

"He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end."

We cannot know what God has done. What is past belongs to God. And what God has done with it we cannot know. What God has done with all our past, we cannot know. But we can know that it all, all the good and all the badů it all belongs to God.

The memories we posses have been built from the accumulation. We've had our laughter, and tears, and grief and dancing and happiness. We've had that time like when strolling the smell of fresh clover clung to us, having the power to bring the memory of that person who's hand we held so long ago.

We have what are these glimpses seen of the grace given to us in love. Our sweet memories will, if we allow them, cause a gentle recognition that in all of it we have truly never been alone.

And so we continue to take our journeys, sometimes being whispered to by our unwelcome companion memories. And chains may be at our feet when we want to move another way. That memory that causes us pain resulted from a "matter under heaven" that occurred in its own time. But if we stop, and look down to where our feet are now planted. And if we look around ourselves we will see that the event that gives an uncomfortable or even painful memory has had its time.

And its time is past.

Can we give it up? The past? Can we relinquish it to where it belongs? Shall we hang on, saying that it is ours, ours because it was ours to experience? Are the events of our lives truly ours or is it only the memory that we posses? Is the past ours, or do we only own the memories?

Give pause. It becomes clear. The only thing connecting us to our past is the memory of it.

So, should we toil with thoughts to make ourselves believe that what may haunt us did not happen? Should we pretend that what has hurt us did not? Should we imagine our past is but a friend or foe, depending on what it whispers? No, because it did happen. All of it did happen. But ask yourself, "Where is it now?"

"God has put a sense of past and future into our minds, yet we cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end."

Memory. With it is how we have been fashioned.

With a smile or laughter we recall the sweet moments of life. With a smile or laughter or just a thought of those who's lives we have shared we feel the goodness of life. When we do, when we let the spirit of remembrance take us to that pure, sweet first kiss that was our youth, we begin to see its reason. We are fashioned with the ability of remembrance so that we may know that we are never, and have never, been alone

And if every so often a particular memory pulls hard on the chains it has placed around your feet, kick them loose. Walk on and leave it tired and lonely in the dust of your contentment. Let it be. Let it stay. Let it remain in its own time.

For it is and always has been, a matter under heaven.

Read other articles by Pastor Keith