“He has helped his servant…remembering…” (Luke 1:54)
One of the most pastoral words that frame my work is remember. I snatched it from John Patton to put it as a main anchor of my ministry (see Pastoral Care: An Essential Guide for an introduction). Professor Hogue told us about Dr. Patton’s work. Later, Sister Barbara told me how loving a man her friend, John Patton, was in real life. And his language about the pastoral power of memory just kept coming back to me.
Memory is powerful. And when we remember well, we’re doing very godly work. The scriptures tell us that God remembers those who are his, that God remembers to be gracious, that God remembers God’s covenant. Mary captures this part of God’s acts toward her and toward the people of God when she says that the help of God comes in the form of God’s remembering. I think we need memory, as a community, as people, as families. I heard once, or read I’m not sure, that people are their memories. What separates us from other species is memory.
When I think of what makes me unique, what teases my life from the rest of my friends’ lives, it’s memory. It’s my recalled experience of a situation that is unique and distinct from anyone else’s. God’s interaction with me (or you) is the same. How we’ve related to God is so unique, and what maintains we who are with God is memory. And mostly God’s memory. Imagine for a moment key events that frame your life with God. There will inevitably be painful experiences. Grief and suffering will mark some of those moments. Joy inexpressible will be there too.
I wonder if you can think about how God will recast those same moments. I think Mary guides us in learning how God recalls our moments with him. When God thinks of you, of us, God remembers mercifully. That means partly that God never remembers without mercy. Memory and mercy wed in God’s recollection. And this is who God is to every generation of his own. Memory and mercy always come together.
May we recall that God helps us. As Christmas comes and goes, may we be reminded that when others have forgotten us, God keeps us in mind. May we know that the ways God’s memory works all captured by the lovely word mercy.