The power of memory

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by Paul

Ray wrote about remembering about a week ago (see his great post here).  Here are some more thoughts on the power of memory:

My parents are both gone now.  I lost my mother to cancer over 10 years ago, and my father to complications of old age nearly five years ago.  Some days I still yearn to pick up the phone and give them a call.  I remember with fondness the role they played in my life – at all stages of my life.

my folks, about 20 years ago

That memory is healing to me when I miss them.  Mother left behind a personal history which she wrote shortly after she turned 50.  It preserves stories she told us (and some she didn’t) about her own childhood.  Dad did not write a full history, but left a few bits about his early years.  Those records help to preserve and refresh my memories of my own experience with my parents and of stories they told me.

It’s not unusual for me to reflect from time to time how they might respond to some situation in which I find myself – a question of child-rearing or a career decision.  They were both very good about keeping their own counsel, but were free with advice if I asked for it.  And as I get older, I see more of my parents in me, for good and bad.  Our family was not perfect, but we had a good home.

The scriptures talk a lot about remembering.  Our weekly sacrament ordinance is all about remembering the sacrifice of the Savior.  In ancient Israel, ritual sacrifices were also about remembering.  The Book of Mormon and the Old Testament make regular use of the convention of retelling old stories so that the people could remember their history and the source of their blessings.  Those repeated stories offer counsel for future actions, as well.  Consider, for instance, the Book of Mormon’s repeated retelling of the story of Moses and the fiery serpents; today we use the same story to remind us to look to the Savior to live.

In Helaman 5, we read about Helaman’s sons’ remembering their father’s injunction to remember the Savior:

O remember, remember, my sons, the words which king Benjamin spake unto his people; yea, remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world.

It is no surprise, then, given the power of memory to bring comfort, and the wisdom in remembering the right things, that our memory can also aid us in times of spiritual trial.
Recently, Steve Densley, Jr. at Fair Blog, offered a fireside talk given by Terryl Givens called “Letter to a Doubter.”  In the talk, Givens offers a number of bits of wisdom to those who feel they are losing their faith or struggling to find it.  One of the remedies that Givens recommends is remembering:

I believe remembering can be the highest form of devotion. To remember is to rescue the sacred from the vacuum of oblivion. To remember Christ’s sacrifice every Sunday at the sacrament table, is to say “no” to the ravages of time; to refuse to allow his supernal sacrifice to be just another datum in the catalogue of what is past. To remember past blessings is to give continuing recognition of the gift, and re-confirm the relationship to the Giver as one that persists in the here and now.

Few — very few — are entirely bereft of at least one solace giving-memory. A childhood prayer answered, a testimony borne long ago, a fleeting moment of perfect peace. And for those few who despairingly insist they have never heard so much as a whisper, then know this: We don’t need to look for a burning bush, when all we need is to be still and remember that we have known the goodness of love, the rightness of virtue, the nobility of kindness and faithfulness. And ask if we see in such beauties the random effects of Darwinian products, or can we not perceive in them the handwriting of God on our hearts?

At the same time, remembering rather than experiencing moves us toward greater independence, and insulates us from the vicissitudes of the moment. Brigham said God’s intention was to make us as independent in our sphere, as he is in his.   That is why the heavens close from time to time, to give us room for self-direction. That is why the saints rejoiced in a Pentecostal day in Kirtland’s temple, but were met with silence in Nauvoo. Silence—and their memories of Kirtland.

One can see the Lord gently tutoring us to replace immediacy with memory, in section 6, when he says to Oliver, “if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God? (D&C 6:22-23).

President Kimball also taught the value of remembering.  The present Book of Mormon Sunday School manual offers this quotation from a 1968 BYU address to religious educators:

When you look in the dictionary for the most important word, do you know what it is?  It could be “remember.” Because all of [us] have made covenants … our greatest need is to remember. That is why everyone goes to sacrament meeting every Sabbath day—to take the sacrament and listen to the priests pray that [we] “… may always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given [us].”… “Remember” is the word.

Just as memories of my interaction with my parents comfort me when I miss them, memories of my interactions with the Lord comfort me in my spiritual valleys when it is not as easy for me to see His direct involvement in my life.  Remembering the peace I feel when I enter the temple, the warmth of the Spirit when I stood in the baptismal font with my children, the witness I received as a patriarch laid his hands on my head, the indescribable joy I felt kneeling around the altar of the temple with my parents and the unmistakable guidance I have felt when blessing my lovely wife all help to remind me of the Lord’s tender mercies.  Each provides a light to guide me in the darkness, to call me home.

  • Do you turn to memories to help you in times of trial?
  • How do you access those memories when you need them the most?
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About Paul

Paul was a convert to the church with his parents and siblings when he was a child, and therefore has the great blessing of having some of his formative years in the church while still remembering his family’s conversion experience. He is the father of seven and husband to his lovely wife. He served an LDS mission in Germany and has lived in Latin America and twice in Asia for his employer; now he lives with his lovely wife and youngest two children in the Midwestern US. Prior to earning his MBA, Paul also earned degrees in English and Theatre History. He also blogs at A Latter-day Voice (see the link below -- in "Our Authors Elsewhere" section at the bottom of the page) where he writes, as he does here, of his own experience as a Latter-day Saint. He does not speak for the church but will speak in favor of it.

3 Responses to The power of memory

  1. jendoop says:

    I do turn to memories in times of trial. Although it is much easier to do so now that I’ve got a few decades under my belt (Ok, more than a few). There is a calm assurance that comes from living with the Lord in your life over many years. You know that all will be well, even when in the moment it doesn’t seem to be so. One of the greatest are memories of repentance. When I remember the times that repentance has healed me in the past it helps me not hit quite so low when I’m humbled by sin. I know that while I am weak in overcoming, if I return to God with full purpose of heart I will be forgiven, that all is not lost. Even in the midst of sin, trying so hard to be who God wants me to be, I remember his power, that things work out as long as I’m doing something to move towards him.

    The Holy Ghost definitely brings things to my remembrance to comfort me – it’s like he’s multi-tasking 🙂

    It’s interesting to think about how remembering is probably a mortal thing, as the veil clouds our minds.

  2. Bonnie says:

    Stories have such tremendous power. I find that the power of the scriptures is less in the prescriptive advice that’s given and more in the real lives of people with whom I can identify. I often find myself turning a problem over in my mind and thinking, “what would Elijah do?” or “this is so similar to Mordecai’s predicament.” I have stories of my own family as well – for instance the collective memory of the escaped pigs that my mother prayed into a single file line (I’ll have to write about that one some day.) They have tremendous meaning and like that great episode of Star Trek (“Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra”) sometimes all that is required to communicate volumes is a simple reference to the story. We are so much more than our own experience. We deny great power to ourselves when we fail to tap into our collective family memories and our collective heritage as children of Israel.

  3. Paul says:

    Jen, I have been wondering since first reading your comment about the idea of remembering’s being a mortal thing. What do you mean by that?
    Bonnie, great observation that it seems to be the stories that stick with us, even (or maybe especially) the stories that teach a lesson.

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