Psalm 66, 67 (Morning)
Psalm 19, 46 (Evening)
Every time my dog Boomer gets skunked, I am amazed that he seems to have no memory of his previous skunking. That poor dog has been skunked point blank at least five times in the six years he’s been on the planet. Skunkings so bad that he’s had to stay outside for a few days despite vigorous attempts to remove it with all sorts of concoctions–tomato juice, orange juice, lemon juice, vinegar, Dawn dish soap, and my personal favorite, the peroxide and baking soda remedy. They were such robust skunkings that even my best efforts left enough smell that it was too much to be indoors.
Yet every time that dog sees a skunk, he has the same delusion that it will be a willing and passive participant in his latest hunting adventure.
I did a little bit of reading recently, and discovered that the latest theory is that dogs have memory, just not episodic memory. The fact they learn in a domesticated setting shows that they have some kind of memory. They have a memory for what we don’t want them to do–placed in the dark, they will choose the “forbidden food” over the “approved food”–they just don’t seem to remember events.
Today’s readings also point out that our episodic memories aren’t perfect.
Two of today’s readings specifically deal with “feast vs. famine.” (Jeremiah and Mark) Our passage in Jeremiah calls to mind the excruciating pain that famine can bring; our reading in Mark could be subtitled, “The disciples ask, “but what has anyone done for us lately?” and Jesus sets them straight.” Our Epistle today jogs our memories back to the lineages of Abraham through both Hagar and Sarah to remind us about the differences between freedom and slavery.
The truth is, there are many important things that happen to us that we don’t remember. I remember the process of learning to tie my shoes (and that my whole family were stressed that I had not learned by age 6, until someone went, “Oh, she’s left-handed and we’re all right-handed,” and figured out a way to do it mirror image-style) but I don’t really remember the exact moment I first was able to tie my shoes. These readings remind us that our brains have a tendency that, when times are good, we really don’t remember the bad times quite accurately–or at all. In times of physical or spiritual plenty, we tend not to remember the hungry, dark, or doubtful times. In fact, everyone around us might even tell us to quit, if we do remember.
“Oh, don’t think about that. That’s all over now.”
“Well, you don’t have to live through that ever again.”
“That person is out of your life now–forget about it!”
“Are you still dwelling on that? You should be over it by now.”
Likewise, in times of famine, we forget what it was like when it was good, and again, the voices around us tend to discourage us.
“You can’t be daydreaming about what once was, you need to get your head out of the clouds and get to fixing this situation.”
“Stop wishing for what you can’t have.”
“Well, you’re not in high school anymore. You have to work for a living now. You don’t know how good you had it back then.”
“You have a selective memory. It wasn’t THAT good back then.”
Yes, we have an episodic memory, but it’s a little on the fickle side.
Another aspect of episodic memory is that within our faith, we have a collective memory that stretches back thousands of years, and because the average human only lives 70-some years, we can’t possibly have been there when these events happened. Yet these collective memories not only shape our present faith, we are instructed time and time again to recount them. Every time we read the Psalms bits of the collective memories of the ancient Hebrew people are divulged. Every Sunday at the Eucharist, we hear, “Do this in memory of me.”
That concept of memory at the Eucharist–anamnesis–is a call to remember collectively. It’s not a call to remember only the good stuff. It’s not a call to only cry out to God over the bad stuff. It’s not even a call for us to only remember our stuff. It’s a call to hear the memories of all of the episodes in the created world, the good and the bad, as they are, that we can possibly hear–and to hope that through them, we can create new and better episodes.
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid