The Rwandan people set aside this week to remember the genocide. They do this in order to pay homage to the dead and so that it never happens again. Many shops close their doors, people modify their work schedules, and families gather, much as North Americans do on Thanksgiving Day. While gratitude isn’t the focus and while the political aspects of the event aren’t totally healthy, this is an important time in the life of the country.
Memory matters. In the lives of both the Jewish and Christian faiths, the rituals of remembrance have played an important role. The week before Easter, we joined other families here in Kigali in a Jewish Seder meal, traditionally to remember the events of Israel’s liberation from Egypt. The meal foreshadows the Christian communion meal, in remembrance of Jesus´ death on the cross. While Quakers remember without the elements of the meal, we do practice remembrance.
I love the parts of the word “re-member.” It means to bring together again the parts—the members—of an event. It’s a holistic concept, the opposite of the ugly word dismember, a genocide word. Commemorate also illustrates the coming-together meaning, with its links to community, communion, communication, etc. (At this point I miss access to the Oxford English Dictionary; I’m depending on my memory of the words. Maybe that’s not so bad.)
Remembrance is one of the ancient spiritual disciplines of the Christian church, practiced in different ways at different times by the various branches of our family. It’s become an important practice in my life.
Right now my daughter-in-law, my granddaughter and I find ourselves alone at home, the others having gone off on an adventurous roughing-it type trek. The quiet has delighted and refreshed us. We’ve enjoyed good times of reading, studying, watching movies, cooking and eating great food (just for us!) and long conversations. With no competition for the limited supply of hot water in the shower! Actually, we miss the others and look forward to their return, possibly this afternoon. But we’ve taken advantage of the relative freedom of being here alone.
Memory has played a part in this time. Yesterday, Sunday, we had our own church service, centered around a consideration of the role God assigns to memory in stories of Scripture. We followed our conversation with a time of silence and then shared the memories that rose to the surface.
I remembered the time of my granddaughter’s birth in Oregon. The very day she was born, David and Debby brought her home to their little house on Trinity Lane in the orchard land outside Newberg. They gave me the incredible privilege of taking Breanna—one-day-old—on her first walk outdoors. I carried her through a filbert orchard, green in the early May weather. I introduced her to her first tree, actually saying the words, “Bree, this is Tree. Tree, Bree.” As I walked through the orchard, I voiced out loud a long prayer of blessing, covering her whole life, reaching out to this present day. I’m sure I sang some, too.
She was awake for a small part of the experience and remembers none of it, of course. But it’s an important memory, about more than the past. The spiritual discipline of memory is indeed about more than the past. Remembering God’s faithfulness yesterday gives courage for today and hope for tomorrow. God’s faithfulness, love and provision don’t change, but flow down the years covering us in the brightness of all that God is.
Bree is currently finishing her senior year of high school in Kenya, looking forward to college in Newberg and struggling with the anxieties and uncertainties all this normally brings. The whole family is wrestling with the changes that are coming. It’s a good time to remember that the One who has always been there for them is just as close and just as loving now, and will be with her and her family next year and all the years of the future.
As I remember walking in the filbert orchard and blessing that baby, I sense God’s faithfulness and blessing through the generations. Is it possible that I can even look forward to a fruitful and joy-filled old age?