Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Repost: Retaining and Ridding

“A time to keep and a time to throw away…”

                        Ecclesiastes 3.6

The Corners of Our Minds

The Streisand classic, “The Way We Were,” begins with “Memories light the corners of my mind,” which seems most apt since that’s where memories live. They’re artifacts of events that once commanded center stage. The actual occurrences happen quickly and yield the spotlight to new ones. But their memories don’t leave. They settle in shadowy corners and flare up unexpectedly without provocation or reason.

If only we could take Solomon’s counsel about keeping and throwing away at face value—if we actually could choose which memories to retain and which to rid. Unfortunately, we can’t govern memories any better than the events that spawn them. They are what they are, and we should accept that. Memories can, however, be remedied. And that’s where Solomon’s advice obtains unique wisdom. Inability to purge our minds’ corners of unwelcome reminders doesn’t prevent us from addressing them one by one, consciously deciding what of each to keep and what to toss.

A Poultice of Love

When I was 10 or so, a nasty boil popped up on my knee. I didn’t mention it to my mother in dread of the undoubtedly painful procedure she’d administer. (She was a nurse before entering ministry and many things that sent other kids to the doctor she treated at home.) The boil grew until wearing pants was unbearable. I had to ‘fess up. Mom glanced at it and ordered me to the kitchen. She sliced a potato, shaved off a bit as a poultice, and bandaged my knee. “Go to bed. You’ll be fine by morning.” I was. The starchy potato had drawn the boil’s poisonous core from my knee. “Now, don’t you wish we’d done this sooner?” Mom asked.

I apologize for the slightly disgusting details of this story, yet I always recall it when discussion turns to bad memories. They’re like boils—poisonous at the core. Until that’s removed, they continue to fester, causing greater discomfort. Merely brushing against them is agonizing. In dealing with pain from our past, love is to memory what potato is to boil. “Love covers over a multitude of sins,” 1 Peter 4.8 tells us. And in 1 Corinthians 13.5-8, Paul says it “keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” A poultice of love is the treatment of choice for bad memory core removal. It goes beneath surface wrongs to counteract underlying victimization, despair, and resignation with protection, hope, and perseverance. It turns us from what evil has done to what love can do. We’re able to keep the memory—as we must—but throw away the core causing so much pain. Instead of wishing the entire memory to go away, we wish we’d treated its core poisons sooner.

Mind Renewal

Paul writes, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12.2) What is the world’s pattern regarding bad memory treatment? Basically, it follows one of two methods: symptom suppression or pain management. Unassisted, we try to bury the past; with professional help, we try to live with it. Both methods subscribe to natural logic—they’re both personality-based defense mechanisms. But neither fits the love-driven, unnatural lifestyle Jesus taught because they attempt to alleviate our agony instead of addressing its cause. Christ’s followers think differently about everything, bad memories included. We don’t conform to conventional wisdom; we’re transformed to approach life from an entirely different, counterintuitive perspective. We do this by renewing our minds, filtering them of logic’s limited alternatives to infuse them with faith’s infinite possibilities.

There’s a reason why Paul uses the present tense. Mind renewal is a constant, conscious process, not some kind of spiritual hypnosis that induces amnesia. It’s more like waves of faith we release over our thoughts about where we are, where we’re going, and where we’ve been. With each fresh surge, memories bob up—some quicker than others. When they do, we apply love to leech their core poisons. Loving allows us to retain memories by ridding ourselves of past evils chronically infecting our hope and happiness.

Love is the poultice we apply to bad memories. It leeches their evil cores and remedies their pain.

Originally posted as "Having and Heaving."

(Tomorrow: Rending and Mending)

Postscript: Shepherd’s Song

Yesterday, the ever astute and remarkable Fran posted this simple video set to the hymn, “Shepherd Me, O God.” For reasons I can’t explain, nor need to, it resonated deeply with me. So I’m taking a page from the equally astute and remarkable Rev. Fred, who also was moved by Fran’s post and shared the hymn’s lyrics with his readers. The song is particularly relevant to today’s discussion. Listen closely to the fifth stanza: You have set me a banquet of love in the face of hatred, crowning me with love beyond my pow’r to hold. The love we need to overcome evil infecting our memories is beyond our power. It comes only by God’s grace and He assumes total responsibility for seeing it's always available in ready supply. (Hat-tip to Fran and Rev. Fred.)


Missy Francis said...

Ah yes, Marty Haugen. I do love this arrangement of Psalm 23.
I am at retreat right now and one of the speakers (composer Michael Joncas) has been teaching sessions on the Psalms in Jewish and Christian worship--really good stuff. There was an amazing performance tonight during Taize prayer. It's all good. But now I've stayed up past my bed time! Peace, my friend~

Tim said...

Missy, is it right of me to envy your being on retreat and what you're learning? I hope so, because I'm jealous as all get-out. Perhaps I can offset my selfishness with fond prayers that you come home fully refreshed and magnificently inspired. Yeah, that should do it. But wait--if I ask this for you while also hoping it absolves me, doesn't that make me twice as selfish?

Now can you see why retreat sounds so appealing right through here? Is it obvious why getting away to clear out the tangles for fresh ideas makes me envious?

Will you forgive me? ;-)

I can't wait to hear all about it once you're back. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!


Cuboid Master said...

"A poultice of love is the treatment of choice for bad memory core removal." Thank you for this reminder. It is right that you use your own parables to demonstrate the meaning of the Gospels. As Jesus knew so well, translating God's wisdom into a story always helps the befuddled seeker. Story is a way to make the Divine more accessible.

I am glad you reminded us that "love never fails." Recently, I have begun meditating before prayer. I focus on my breathing, sometimes add in some yoga, and include "mantras" in my mind's voice. "I breathe in the love, I breathe out fear," has become most common for me. I let the words ebb and flow, asking the Holy Spirit to direct my "mantras."

This attention to love does indeed heal. Slowly, I am seeing myself transformed by the mindful practice of meditation. I always start by asking Lord Jesus to deliver my prayers or "mantras" to His Father, then put in my earplugs and BREATHE. Yesterday, I found myself breathing out love to my mother whom I am estranged from. It felt very good.

Tim said...

Dear CM, hearing this brings me great joy. Your approach is spot-on, first because our first breath comes directly from God--i.e., pure, undefiled, and all-powerful Love. Only when it's diluted by our fear (love's polar opposite) do we reduce its power.

I love the concept of "breathing out love" to others. First, they need it--we all need more love breathed our way. But second it activates Christ's law of love in a very real way; we're loving others as ourselves, offering to them what we most desire from them.

You've given all of us here much to think about and a superb example to follow. Thank you for this.

Blessings of breath,