Memory is a tricky thing. We all have a heap of them, but sometimes they disappear or the edges get blurry. And sometimes we can remember something entirely different than the person standing next to us.
I believe that my earliest memory is the day that my brother was born. In my head I can see myself walking down the hallway holding my dad’s hand, on my way to see this little person that entered the world. I can tell you that I was wearing blue corduroy OshKosh overalls and carrying a stuffed Elmo doll.
The funny thing is, my brother was born when I was only two and a half years old. The odds that I actually remember that day are very slim. But I know I have seen pictures and heard stories throughout my life of that day. The line between story and memory has become so porous that I’m not so sure I can distinguish the two anymore. The fact of the matter is, though, that I treasure that day in my heart and my mind because I love my brother. I wonder if it matters whether my memory is just a story that has become my own?
Is this what Moses was describing to the Israelites in Wednesday’s lectionary reading? He is talking about the words that were given to him by the Lord, words that provide order and rhythm to their lives. Moses tells the Israelites to hear these words and to observe them, to make them part of their own lives, so that when others look at their example they see God.
“However, take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”
The Israelites ordered their lives around ritual remembering. Every season had a feast and celebration to mark a time that God was moving among them. Eventually, time went by and those who may have been witnesses to original events were gone, but the stories lived on in the collective memory of these new generations. The line between story and memory is blurred.
Much like the Israelites, we mark time too. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and sometimes other important live events like deaths, graduations, or personal achievements. This ritual remembering is also what we do every year when we find ourselves in Advent or this season of Lent. We take the time to remember what God has done, what God is doing. We tell and retell the story. Because with every retelling of God’s story, it becomes more of our own. It seeps into us and becomes who we are. It changes us.
Maybe it doesn’t matter as much whether each person actually remembers all of the details of seeing Moses come down from the mountain having experienced God. Maybe that was never the point. Maybe it is telling and retelling the story that makes it sink in for the Israelites, like my memory of my brother. Maybe the blurred line between story and memory is okay, because it is in that space that God is teaching us.