12 February 2011


I truly love history. Different periods of human history attract me at different times. Currently, it is Native American and American westward expansion that holds my attention. History is a type of remembering. On more than one occasion, I have been asked if such an avocation is but a waste of energy...because it keeps one from living in the present or being focused on the future.

The answer to that inquiry could be a resounding "yes," if that is what one was inclined to do. However, such remembering quickly becomes either maudlin or, at best, emotionally stunting to one's growth. One does not study history for history's sake. Here is where an exploration of definition is important.

Our current definition of "remember" generally means something like, "to think back on" or "to reflect." It is a worthy definition, if the intention is to do just that. I like to think back on moments of raising our two daughters; or a vacation experience; or a conversation with a dear friend. It helps to keep a repertoire of mental images that connect the dots of our growth and change. Our daughters are now adults, and it is a joy to behold what they have become in light of those early images of them as infants, toddlers, etc. Those vacations inspired and shaped new ways of experiencing the world. Conversations have created new knowledge and deeper understanding of the world around me. But, wouldn't you know it, there is more (always).

The ancient Greek word "anamnesis" (an-nahm-nee-sis) appears in a variety of places, but most often in the New Testament (original language was Koine Greek...a common version of classical Greek). The word is translated "remember," but its literal meaning is "to make present again." In essence it is a present perfect tense signifying a coming together again of that event or moment. This introduces a mystery.

In considering a past event or an historic person, how might such a coming together again take place? Part of the answer can be found in the study of history itself. My experience of Gettysburg Battlefield (Civil War, June 30 - July 3, 1863) is perhaps unique. Not only have I read accounts from both sides of the battle, but I have read biographies and autobiographies of those who fought there. I have made five visits to the battlefield and walked its entire massive range from early in the morning until after sunset. But, it isn't the facts or data that affect me the most. It is the sense of what happened to the thousands of lives forever lost and changed in that place. Something forever changed about who we are now as a result of those four days. Abraham Lincoln captured it magnificently in his short, but never to be forgotten address a few months later. To go there is to have something come together again.

I have had similar experiences while walking portions of the Oregon/California Trail and while doing Vision Quest in the center of the Black Hills. I have "bumped" into presence while climbing Bear Butte or hiking around ancient ruins in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. I have come away changed. My perspective is altered, and I have a deeper sense of direction and purpose. It's an amazing experience.

On Sunday mornings, I generally can be found at the Altar of my parish church. I am either presiding directly (the priest "making" Eucharist via the prayer of consecration) or am near one of my Associates who is presiding. The part of the Eucharistic Prayer known as the "Institution Narrative" is a summary of what we call the Last Supper of Jesus and begins, "....On the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus took bread...." In taking both the bread and the cup, Jesus tells his disciples, "Do this in remembrance of me." It is that word "anamnesis" that is used in the biblical narrative. Jesus is telling those gathered that, when they do this action, he will be present to them again. Do we get it? Not if we are looking for a biological entity.

Soldiers don't return to the battlefield. Monks do not return to the abbey ruins. Settlers do not reappear on the westward wagon trails. And the thousands of those who "cried for a vision" in the Black Hills do not corporally return. But there IS a presence of character, struggle, prayer and the lasting effects of those moments that somehow linger....to speak if we can listen and teach if we are open. It is a presence that shapes our understanding of the present and potential for the future.

With as much theology as I have learned and used (and continue to learn), I cannot tell you how; but I know that the promise of Jesus is accomplished when we respond to, "...whenever you do this, do so in remembrance of me..." Following these Words of Institution is a portion of the prayer known in Greek as the "epiclesis" (epi-clee-sis). It literally means "to call down." It is also known as the invocation of the Holy Spirit. At those words, we become intensely aware that the promise has been fulfilled and that Jesus is present to us in this sacrament. I have never not had that sensation of something transforming and engaging in that prayer. I am awed by the intensity of that mystery.

Next time you are in the act of remembering, ask yourself: Are you connecting dots as you assemble elements of life or experience; or are you re-assembling so as to encounter transformative experience? These are not just questions of theology or mystical prayer. It is seminal to the psychodynamics of our being and the shape of our character.


Fr. Fred+

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