Archive for the ‘memory’ Category

Storm and Story   Leave a comment

In a fit of New Year’s house-cleaning, I spent part of yesterday going through photos and papers my mother left to me. She passed sixteen years ago, but only now am I finally getting around to culling photo albums and memorabilia. Unlabeled pictures of ancestors I don’t recognize I’m discarding. (The clearest of them I’ll scan and post to ancestry.com — someone may perceive a link to their own story.) Together the images I’m discarding will make for a personal springtime ritual of memory, which feels now like it should be annual: to the unknown ancestors.

Ann Hall

a known ancestor — my great-great-grandmother Ann

Among my mother’s effects was a sealed envelope, with a notation in fading Victorian script: “Worth County Eagle of Feb. 10, 1881”. Worth County is rural northern Iowa, where my mother was born and grew up.

The paper is just one quarter its usual size, and the Feb. 10th issue opens with an apology, explaining that the recent three-day blizzard has delayed their paper shipment, and so the present issue is small, a single sheet, folded in half to make four pages.

The railroads are all blockaded. Possibly the BCR & N [railroad] may get trains to Albert Lea [nearby in Minnesota] by Saturday night, if they have no bad luck. The Minneapolis & St. Louis [line] is in very bad shape. Six engines are dead at Hartland and the road is full of snow. They cannot clear the road this week.

But the most poignant column of the issue, appearing on the third page, is more personal:

Last Friday afternoon, Joe Fleming, of Kensett, came to Northwood, on horseback, for a coffin, for the only child of Chas. Christenson. It was late on his arrival, and he did not think it expedient to venture out again, so near dark, and remained over night. Our readers all know what a day Saturday was, and it was unsafe for one to be out on the road, so Joe waited until Sunday morning. By then it was impossible for him to get his horse out of the barn, on account of the deep snow. But he made up his mind that the trip must be made, and so had the coffin fastened securely to his back and started on foot, during that severe snow storm. He arrived at home safely.

What we do simply to survive is worthy of story. Let’s not diminish the lives we lead today. One-hundred thirty-seven years ago a child died, a human grief, and that death sparked the human determination that became this particular story. What is remembered lives. But we chose what we remember. Storms occasion such stories, markers of our lives. Everyone has one or more to tell.

May you be warm and safe and cherish your stories, however hard-won. By living them you’ve earned them. Such memories number among things that need to be born.

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Recall, Remembrance, Anamnesis — Druid & Christian Theme 8   Leave a comment

[Themes |1| |2| |3| |4| |5| |6| |7| |8| 9|]

“It is the hour of recall” — OBOD ritual.

“Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:20).

anamnesis (Greek ἀνάμνησις; English an-am-NEE-sis) 1) the Platonic principle that people retain knowledge from past lives and that our present learning involves a recollection of that past knowledge. 2) the Christian principle of recalling the events of Christ’s sacrificial death in the words and actions of the liturgy, especially during Communion or the Eucharist*.

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One way into the Greek word that may serve as a link between Druid and Christian practice is the English borrowed word amnesia, literally “forgetting”. An-amnesis is its opposite: “unforgetting, recall, recollection, remembrance, memorial action”.  And I’m going on from there for a moment and, at least for the purposes of this post, forming the adjective anamnetic “having to do with ritual remembrance”.

Druidry and Christianity both acknowledge the importance of anamnesis. Anamnetic deeds depend for their effect on both ritual and memory — actions intended to evoke a sacred event or time. Perform the ritual and bring to mind the holy. Sacrifice is “making sacred”, and we only “know” the sacred because in some way we re-cognize it: we know it again. Anamnetic acts acknowledge that even the best memory fades, so they recharge it with symbolic words and deeds.

At the “hour of recall” in OBOD ritual, we’re reminded that the rite is both timeless and bound by time. Its effect comes in part through memory: “let memory hold what the eye and ear have gained”. We’re also reminded that the apparent world and the inner world may overlap, but they’re not the same. Ritual sets aside a space for the inner and the sacred, acknowledges it, increases the overlap, and then reverses all those actions in the farewell, in order to safely restore the participants to the profane, mundane, “real” world of everyday life. (Because trying to function here while still in ritual consciousness is dangerous. We’re “spacey” and attentive to other things, not traffic lights, the blender’s sharp blades, those three steps down, our co-worker’s question, the toddler who darts into the intersection just ahead.)

I take part in a ritual, and its effects follow in time and memory. Likewise in Christianity, depending on how the word “this” is understood, whether once during the annual Passover (the setting where he spoke the words), or at every meal, or something in between, Christ commands his followers to “do this … in remembrance of me” — in a word, to practice anamnesis. “Proclaim the Lord’s death till he come again”.

A sacred meal shared with others is among the best kinds of fellowship. It’s an anamnetic act common to many traditions and cultures as a sign of religious faith, because it also expresses friendly hospitality and generosity. These acts of giving and giving back are inherently sacred. We can choose to recognize this by ritualizing them, or by foregoing the opportunity they offer.

How much of human consciousness, after all, is memory? How do we sustain the transformative power of any event we choose to value, except through recalling it, naming it, celebrating it, re-enacting it in order to vivify it and make it real again in some way in the present? “What is remembered, lives”.

Thus we celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, historical events, and so on. We tell stories of the living and of the ancestors. We even make up fictions the rest of the time, in order to remind ourselves what life is like, in case we lose sight of its shape and nature. And when we enter the mythic realm, the question to ask is not “Is it true? Did it really happen?” but “What truth does it teach? What holy thing does it help us remember?” When we com-memorate something, we remember it together.

And what we value, we dramatize. Greek theater began as religious worship: “Until the Hellenistic period [roughly 320 to 30 BCE], all tragedies were unique pieces written in honour of Dionysus and played only once, so that today we primarily have the pieces that were still remembered well enough to have been repeated when the repetition of old tragedies became fashionable …” notes the Wikipedia entry on the theater of ancient Greece. Until later times, the theater was a sacred precinct. Weapons were banned, and actors were masked because their human identities, at least during the performance, was subsumed under the characters, often gods or heroes, whom they portrayed.

Julie Babin

coastal Louisiana, Gulf Coast Gathering — photo courtesy Julie Babin

What might all this mean for possible Druid and Christian convergences? Ritual is grounded in theater, in a dramatic portrayal of the memorable. “Let us remember the holy” is one piece of common ground where both can stand. Accepting that no one “owns” the holy is another. Why this is should be obvious, though it’s sometimes ignored in claims of “my god(s) and your god(s)”.  But sacred energy continually bursts free of limiting containers, and seeks new forms that refresh and rekindle and feed the spirit. if anything, it’s very much the other way around: the holy owns us. Sometimes it simply breaks through and claims us. You and I have no say in the matter. Other times, we may.

Old or new, liturgies can move us, but they are no substitute for direct contact with the sacred. We need no idolatry of rite placed above spiritual reality. The word’s not the thing it names. Much as I love words, I love the silences of the Great Mystery more. “Be still, and know …” counsels Psalm 46. Because there is that ability within us all that’s able to do this — to be still and come in contact with the holy. It’s our human birthright, and has nothing to do with belief.

Paradoxically (and what would many things amount to, without a touch of paradox?), old ways can come closer to Spirit than newer ones. “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls”.** The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah says these words, looking back at ways already old in his time. Pagan and Christian can find more to share than either may often imagine — in silence, in ritual, in remembrance.

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*Like anamnesis, eucharist derives from Greek — in this case, from eucharistia “thanksgiving, gratitude”. Modern Greek still uses a related word (changed a little in pronunciation) to say “thank you”: ευχαριστώ [ehf-khah-ree-STOH]

**Jeremiah 6:16. The prophet gives these words to God to say.

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