Tuesday, June 1, 2010

BLESSING MEMORIES

A few weeks ago, I celebrated my 75th birthday by visiting Asheville, North Carolina, accompanied by my daughter, Stephanie, her husband, Brad, and my good friend Vickie. It was a busy visit, and during the hecktivity of travel, I had little time to look back at 75 years and meditate about what it means, now, to be part of the elderly population. When I finally sat down to ponder the aging process, I remembered my godfather Markham who lived next door to me in New Iberia for thirteen years during his late eighties and nineties. Markham died at the age of 99 ½ years, and while he sojourned in New Iberia, he often spent mornings sitting and meditating. I’d take him his mail and find him doing what I considered to be nothing. One day I delivered him a sheaf of mail and found him seated on the sofa, holding his head in his hands. “Are you depressed?” I asked. “Gracious no,” he replied. “I’m just meditating,” then added, “at 90, I have so much to think about.” He also said that he “knew too much,” due to a long life of accumulating knowledge. The third point he shared with me about his moments of contemplation was that he had so many good memories and now had time to think about them.

Well, I’m not ninety yet, but I can identify with all those points. Memories are a large part of the fabric of our lives. I have as many bad memories as good, and during a silent retreat sponsored by the Sisters of St. Mary last year, I received a bit of simplistic instruction in how to handle both. During a break from a lecture, I picked up a book entitled PRAYER, THE ACT OF BEING WITH GOD by John Killinger. A reading of the chapter, “Blessing Your Memories,” presented me with a process for dealing with the entire spectrum of memory. For those interested in productive contemplation or a variation on the subject of contemplative prayer, Killinger says to begin by sitting and recalling good memories, perhaps some childhood incidents and impressions that you treasure—maybe it was the acquisition of a new dog or another simple occasion. Focus on that memory for awhile. Then, thank God for the memory. Inevitably while you’re dealing with the good memory, a bad memory will emerge, perhaps an event that brought deep emotional pain and you might wonder why it’s still painful. However, this is the way of memory—the pain has persisted…so thank God for that memory also. You’ll probably find yourself “yo-yo-ing” through your memories but it does help to bless all of them. They’ll be your companions throughout your life, so why not bless them?

Try this kind of prayer when you’re in a reminiscent mood, which might turn out to be a daily occurrence, as it was with Markham. It will bring into presence the richness of experiences through which you’ve lived and endured. Killinger tells us that the history of the faith of Israel, the Bible, is primarily a recounting of the events in the lives of a people and a meditation about how God entered into those events. So, he says, when you prayerfully remember events in your life and bless them by giving thanks for being able to remember all of them, bad and good, in essence you’re participating in the same kind of theological act as those who recorded the history of Israel.

“This too, [bad memories] will pass,” Killinger says, “and will become part of the history of your life. It’s good to live and to give thanks to God [for all memories].”
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