Truth and Memory

            I have been fascinated by the rate at which we seem to forget certain events while remembering some insignificant detail that no one else seems to have witnessed. Arguments ensue with thorough incomprehension: “I remember that it was like this.” “Well, that’s not what Iremember!” no one closer to the “truth” of the matter. Why is that we can be so convinced of what we remember even if there is concrete evidence to the contrary? Perception enormously impacts that memory, but we can even remember an event that happened to someone else as if it happened to us, or even change details as if it actually occurred in such a way. One research psychologist found in the context of witnessing a crime that, “Memory is not only fallible, it is changeable. Changes in the way people are questioned—even when the change amounts to a single word—can alter what they think they’ve seen.” 
            That working memory is only marginally accurate and can actually be altered, alone, raises a surfeit of questions. What is most interesting to me, though, to truly remember something it must be rehearsed: memorized. It is necessary that time be devoted to the recollection and review of the event for it to remain relatively intact in the stores of long-term memory. This is what makes telling stories about a loved one after his or her death so important. This is why the Jewish tradition makes prominent rituals of story-telling, reminders to the children and their children what God has done.
            I thoroughly detest memorizing anything. I would memorized Scripture verses growing up merely because I am strongly competitive and had to “win”—not just the most verses memorized, but also all of those suggested. For an upcoming doctoral course I am required to memorize a couple of chapters in Ephesians. My initial response was physical: the stomach churning I would get when asked to do so as a child. But as I have been meditating on the passages these past couple of days in the midst of a time in my life that is chaotic and uncertain (how will we pay our mortgage? Will we be able to get another job? Will I be able to complete my degree? Where is God moving that we may follow in ministry and how will that affect our denominational affiliation?) I am reminded of what is true: “so that…you may know what is the hope to which you have been called…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the greatness of his power….I pray that you may have the power to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the knowledge of God.” (Eph 1, 3) I have always “known” these things—I’ve certainly “memorized” many of these verses before. But when so much is uncertain in our lives, right now, and what is at stake includes my children, and there is extraordinarily little encouragement directed toward me at the moment, it is easy to forget. Then, what is true in my mind is informed by these circumstantial events and trivial nuances in relationships and all I remember is that I am useless, a burden, ineffective and not very smart. Is this true? My memory says so. Ah, but what do I recall?
            We are in an age that is absolutely new, thoroughly uncharted. Technology has a hold that will only become more integrated in all that we do, how we live. It is changing the way our brains process, reason, perceive and remember. The largest impact is on the time spent in reflection, rumination, meditation. It is here that memory—the kind that sticks, the sort that has the chance to be a fraction more “accurate” and a truth that may be more useful, edifying. And our children are growing up, their brains developing without the benefit of that practiced consideration. If we are not intentional about making room for this in our children’s lives, how might this affect truth-telling for future generations? What will this do for memories and how they perceive—and allow to be changed—policy and making things right in this world (i.e., justice and righteousness) and who they are as Image-bearers? How can I direct my children to spend time in the ancient, proven practices that inform my memory concerning my spiritual heritage (and the power therein to love with a love beyond all understanding), if I am so easily disheartened? So, I memorize these passages—and trust what I know to be true: God is faithful, and love is very powerful. 

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