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What Does God Do With Our Memories?


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Russell E. Saltzman - published on 03/02/16

A review of Dawn Eden's "Remembering God’s Mercy"

Trying to fall asleep, but your brain says, nope, you are going stay awake and go over every stupid thing you ever did and every mean thing someone said or did to you? There follows a pointless re-enactment of every regret you possess, every mistake you have ever made, every embarrassment you have experienced, and every distress you have known.

This, then, is a book for you, Remembering God’s Mercy: Redeem the Past and Free Yourself from Painful Memories.

But it is a whole lot more than self-help for insomnia.

Ave Maria Press

It is not the sort of book I would pick up, not for myself. Dawn Eden, the author of this work and several other titles, asked if I might look at it and, coincidently, Aleteia’s editor-in-chief said that I would. That sorted things out for me nicely. So I read it and I’m glad I read it.

Ms. Eden (self-disclosure moment) is one of my 87 Twitter followers, while I am one of the gazillion who follow her, just so you’ll know my relative place within the cosmic Twitterverse we inhabit. We do chat back and forth now and again. Though I asked for a clarification on a point, she has not contributed to this review.

Remembering God’s Mercy is something of a sequel to an earlier work she did. My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints recounts her searing childhood sexual abuse. By drawing lessons and theological insights from the lives of several saints who themselves had sought the peace of Christ, she found resolution to the ordeal of memory and the residue of PTSD.

Following its publication, not a few of her readers pushed her to go a step further. She was asked to write about it again, this time a book “that would present the same healing spirituality” she had found “but in a way that they could share it with loved ones who had not suffered abuse.”

This book, then, treads over fields broader than sexual abuse. This is addressed to memory that has been damaged and blistered, memory that may shadow or more aggressively stalk and mug us when we are most susceptible. If My Peace I Give You was about the purification of memory, then Remembering God’s Mercy is about giving that memory, all of it, to God, making it his responsibility.

There’s a rub. How exactly do you “give” memory away? Hint: it takes three Jesuits to do it, Pope Francis, St. Ignatius Loyola, and St. Peter Faber.

She delves into each. Studying Francis indirectly directed her to the latter two, and especially to the Ignatian prayer, Suscipe (“receive” in Latin):

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,

my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,

All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Ignatius specifically names memory, something that may be given to God. I have been more interested in God’s consciousness of us when we no longer have a memory of him or even of ourselves: my mother collapsing into a crashing dementia, and my father’s graphic, vivid hallucinations that came to define his identity through his final weeks of kidney failure. I think it must be the case that God keeps us within his consciousness even when we are left with no self-aware consciousness of our own.

But giving to God the memory of our suffering, the pain that occasioned it and the trauma that lingers from it―that, I admit, is an arresting thought. But not unwelcomed.

We ask of a loved one, remember me, and give a token of remembrance. We summon a memory, and we give it to God, the whole of it, and we seek a token. The token God returns in exchange are the body and blood of Christ. The whole of the Eucharist is founded in memory―a painful memory of Christ’s betrayal, crucifixion, and death. We then enter into Christ’s suffering, into the memory of Christ, and invite him to enter the suffering of our memory.

It does not mean dismissing the memory, as Eden will say, or even forgetting it as if it never happened, and despite the subtitle of the book, no one is being “freed” from remembering. Think instead, our memories are “repurposed.” “Transfigured” is another word. The troubling memory is placed within the wounded hands of Christ. Who better to treat our own wounds gently?

Sure, we remember our wound; it isn’t anything we are likely to forget. But now we have another memory alongside of it, a remembrance of God’s love. Our pain is safe within his consciousness, and no longer a danger to our own.

Russell E. Saltzmanis a web columnist at First Things magazine and lives in Kansas City, Missouri. He can be reached on Twitter as @RESaltzman.

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