The kaleidoscope of memory

Memory enables us to recall the past, makes sense of the present and plan the future.

  1. Remembered information

Books and courses on How to Improve Your Memory focus mainly on the storage and recollection of factual information, offering techniques as aides memoire. For instance, at my first piano lesson as a lad I was taught how to read and remember the notes on the treble score: those in the four ascending spaces between the lines spelled F.A.C.E., while those on the lines suggested Every Good Boy Deserves Favours (or Fruit gums, much desired during sweet rationing). I had already memorised Psalm 103:0, including the lines: ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,’ for ‘the steadfast love of the Lord is … on those who … remember to do his commandments’ (verses Psalm 103:2-5, 17-18). This aspect of memory is still painfully active in lost souls after death (see Luke 16:25).

  1. Remembered experiences

In my youth I had an almost photographic memory for factual details and assumed that this was the norm. So I got annoyed with my mate Allen when he would relate varying versions of incidents that we had shared in together. When I accused him of lying, he pleaded: ‘I don’t always recall the details of what happened, but I always remember how it felt at the time and I stay true to that aspect every time I talk about it. His reply may help us to appreciate that, despite the superficial variations in the four Gospels, each writer recorded the essential truth from eyewitnesses in every instance.

Some traumatic experiences can be so painful that the brain buries them too deep to be recalled. However, later in life certain events, objects, songs or scents may trigger off those original reactions – of fear or disgust – for no logically apparent reason. This can also work in a good way. A group of friends complaining about some foul smell will be surprised when one of their group is actually enjoying it – because, although he doesn’t realise it consciously, as an infant it was how his daddy’s work clothes smelt when he came home after weeks away at sea.

  1. Remembered persons

Consider how the Bible consistently uses the term to ‘remember’ someone. The first instance is Genesis 8:1, ‘God remembered Noah’ and took practical steps towards his restoration. When the apostles in Jerusalem urged Paul ‘to remember the poor’ (Galatians 2:10) they were provoking him to some humanitarian response. The title of Psalm 70:0 – ‘for the memorial offering’ – accords with the psalm’s plea for God to rescue the singer. Compare Genesis 19:29; 30:22; 1 Samuel 1:11, 19-20; Psalm 74:2-3; Luke 23:42-43 and Jeremiah 15:15 in their respective contexts.

‘In remembrance of me’: according to W.E.Vine ‘anamnesis, a remembrance…, is used … in the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, not “in memory of” but in an affectionate calling of the Person Himself to mind.’  Compare Ecclesiastes 12:1 (‘Remember …your Creator’) and 1 Timothy 2:8 (‘Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead’). He wants to dine with us (Revelation 3:20), so let’s enjoy his fellowship ‘as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup.’

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