That You May Remember

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But I have said these things to you that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you of them.

John 16:4

Ordinary life is largely life in forgetfulness. This state is not essentially the difficulty in remembering specific words, proper names, and where we’ve placed our keys that troubles those of us who have attained a certain age. It is rather the forgetfulness of a fragmented and dispersed consciousness. While after 60 or so, we may forget the reason we have come back into the kitchen, it is throughout life that we tend to forget the reason we have been given life in the world.

The author of John’s gospel is writing for a Community under siege that is being put out of the synagogue and that faces the threat of martyrdom. He offers that Community words that Jesus had spoken when he was among them so that they may remember his promise to remain always with them. When the difficulties and sufferings of life threaten to overwhelm them, they are to return to the words that Jesus spoke to them – and remember him.

There are many places in our world today where the threat of martyrdom remains as imminent as it did for the early Christians. In the secular world of the West, however, the great threat is the insidious one of forgetfulness of spirit. Jesus has sent to, and into, us the “Spirit of truth.” But to remember the Spirit, we must live within ourselves at the level of spirit. Like Martha, we are “busy about many things,” and that busy-ness (business) dominates our consciousness. It is not possible for human consciousness to remember the presence and word of spirit when fixated on our own vital impulses and functional ambitions.

So dominant has the functional dimension of life become for us that even as we attempt to take time for the life of the spirit we do so at the functional level. Prayer is often a functional activity for us. Even with the best of good will, we perceive ourselves as doing our duty when we give time to God. In today’s gospel Jesus tells the disciples that even at the moment of extreme persecution and suffering he hopes they will remember his words, that is, that they won’t try to “insert” God into their experience but rather live their experience in God. It is the Word that is our home; it is not our work to give the Word our home but to find our home in it.

At the level of spirit we are a living memory of Jesus. When we are living in the Spirit of truth, our work is his work. It is not up to us to give God a space in our busy lives, but rather to remember our lives in God’s life.

. . . It is an age where more and more human beings are caught up in lives where fewer and fewer inward decisions can be made, where fewer and fewer real choices exist. The fact that a middle-aged, single woman, without any vestige of family left, lives in this house in a silent village and is responsible to her own soul means something. The fact that she is a writer and can where she is and what it is like on that pilgrimage inward can be of comfort. It is comforting to know there are lighthouse keepers on rocky islands along the coast. Sometimes, when I have been for a walk after dark and see my house lighted up, looking so alive, I feel that my presence here is worth all the hell.

I have time to think. That is the greatest luxury. I have time to be. Therefore my responsibility is huge. To use time well and to be all that I can in whatever years are left to me. This does not dismay. The dismay comes when I lose the sense of my life as connected (as if by an aerial) to many, many other lives whom I do not even know and cannot ever know. The signals go out and come in all the time . . . . 

May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude

 

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