Charting a Course: Remembering

Studies on American consumerism and happiness reveal money can buy happiness if you spend it right.  The happiness we gain from buying stuff is short lived, though.  No sooner have we acquired stuff than our attention turns to new stuff.  By contrast, spending on experience, a reunion or a special trip, for example, has a longer lasting effect because we can relive the experience and feel happy all over again.  The converse is also true.  Remembering a painful experience hurts.  Recalling where we have been, however, is essential to charting the course to our destination.  We’re liable to repeat the past if we fail to examine it.

Navigating painful memories is easier when we don’t do it alone.  “Con dos, no peso un
muerto.”  My friend Marja is a chef and learned this wonderful expression from her grateful line cook when she stood in for an absent prep assistant one day.  It means,
“With two, even death isn’t heavy.”  Scripture offers companions.

Spend some time in Isaiah 53.  Isaiah here foretells of one to whom the Lord is revealed but who goes without any form of majesty.  He endures astonishing rejection and injustice.  While Jews see a suffering servant representative of the house of Israel in this prophesy, Christians see Jesus (an interpretation that does not agree with the context of the preceding songs of Isaiah, by the way, but is suggested in the gospel of Luke nonetheless).  Both interpretations find a fellow sufferer.  The injustice borne
by Jews through history may put one’s own suffering into sharp relief.  If we can appreciate the juxtaposition of extremes that the person of Jesus embodied—condemned by the ones he came to save, champion of justice treated unjustly—we find someone well acquainted with pain.

The Psalter is a fantastic companion for walking through painful memories.  This book of poetry offers words to capture the full range of human emotion and experience.  You will have no difficulty finding verses that voice your ill-will for the one who wronged you, for example.  My personal favorite is Psalm 63.  Here is the ending:

9 But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword,
they shall be food for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

Visualizing a group of jackals sitting around, gnawing on a pile of my tormentor’s bones bearing little teeth marks was a salve to my wounds.  When you find a Psalm that gives voice to your emotion, pray it with vigor.  The honest exhortation to God will give you some release.

Some Christian faith traditions embrace remembrance of Mary, mother of Jesus, as a
companion.  As one chosen to carry an inconceivably great mission, she knew fear.  As a low born unwed pregnant teenager, she knew disgrace and the humiliation of being misunderstood.  As a merciful and courageous companion to her son in his suffering, she knew grief.  The suffering interlaced with blessing that Mary represents is captured beautifully in the prayer we know as the Hail Mary.  This prayer can bring the interlacing of our own blessing and suffering to mind.

Join the conversation.  How has confronting painful memories brought clarity to your destination?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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Is it time for a course correction? How do you know?

I’m a sailor, and I am dating myself here, but I remember the days before GPS was ubiquitous and one actually had to chart a course.  When cruising someplace where we anchored at night, every morning we would make coffee, get out the charts, pinpoint where we were based on the geography of the shore, and decide where we were going to sail that day.  A handy clear plastic sliding parallel tool made it a simple matter to determine the compass heading that would take us there.  Any sailor who has tried to steer to an exact compass heading manually, however, knows that actually doing it is more difficult.  The task is trickier still in ocean crossing because determining one’s exact position involves greater discernment, and a small heading error can make a big difference over a long distance.

It strikes me that navigating our lives is kind of like that.  Sometimes we are close to shore and we know exactly where we are.  Sometimes we don’t even need to read our compass heading because the destination is within sight.  Other times it feels as though we haven’t seen land for days, and although we have a general idea of where we are, we’re not exactly sure.  Taking stock of where we are is critical.  A heading that is just a few degrees off can put us hundreds of miles away from our intended destination if we sail merrily along without periodically pausing to assess our position and direction.

Brian McLaren offers a spiritual exercise to this effect in his book, Finding Our Way Again.  He suggests:

Think about who you were yesterday in terms of character, compared to who you are today. How would you fill in these blanks: “Today I’m more _____ and less ____ than
yesterday”? Do the same regarding a year ago and ten years ago.

He then asks:

What will your character be like in ten years, given your current trajectory?

This was a useful and provocative exercise for me personally, but it begs the bigger question:  Where do you want to go?  This is the question for Elul.  Maybe we haven’t figured out our life’s destination, but we can contemplate our destination for the year ahead and take stock.  At the risk of torturing the metaphor, sailing the course is difficult and corrections can offset our mistakes.  Further, sometimes life events alter our destination.  If I’m sailing for Gibraltar and a hurricane pops up in my path, I might be wise to course correct to Florida.  It pays to stay alert in hurricane season!  At times my course may need only a few degrees of adjustment, and at times it may need a total turn-around.  But how does one ever know if one doesn’t stop to look?

Join the conversation. What inspires you to take a compass reading on your life path?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.   Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.