My dad had a playful habit of singing jingles or silly songs, mostly songs from his childhood. About two years after he died, I put a new Christmas CD in the car, and one of the songs that he had sung to me came on unexpectedly.
“I broke my bat on Johnny’s head, somebody snitched on me. ... I put a frog in sister’s bed, somebody snitched on me. ... I’m getting nuttin’ for Christmas, Mommy and Daddy are mad, I’m getting nuttin’ for Christmas, ‘cause I ain’t been nuttin’ but bad.”
I don’t think I had ever heard that song except for from my father, but when it snuck up on me, I found myself sitting at a red light weeping. That silly little song stirred up a well of emotions tied to a forgotten but deep memory.
Has this kind of thing ever happened to you? Have you smelled a smell that took you back to your grandma’s house? Run across a photograph that told a story you had forgotten?
Sometimes these kinds of memories reside so powerfully in our core that when we recall them — sometimes even unexpectedly — they stir up something deep within us. These moments of remembering are portals for the Holy. There we are, cruising through life on autopilot, and we are snatched into a sacred moment.
It can be much easier to see God’s presence in retrospect, in our remembering. Like Moses, we usually only see the back side of God as God passes by. When we can’t recognize God in the here and now, God meets us in the past. Memory is so powerful.
This is why the community of faith continually tells the stories of God’s work in the world and reads the scriptures, why faithful people act out the Passover meal or Jesus’ last supper or take pilgrimages to Mecca, why churches sing the familiar hymns and teach our children to memorize key Bible passages.
In the moment, such recitations may not touch us or seem relevant. But the time will come when the congregation — or the individual — will remember and it will make all the difference.
Think about all the places in holy scripture in which the writer is doing just this — calling on the reader or the listener to remember how God has acted in the life of the people.
Remember when the children of Israel, lost in the wilderness, cried out that God had forgotten them. Moses reminded them that God had brought them out of Egypt and made a way for them over and over again. And when the psalmist tells the story of God’s great deeds among the people from the very beginning of time until now, and declares that they will tell these stories to the coming generation so that they, too, might know the wonders that God has done. And again when the writer of Hebrews lists a roll call of heroes and heroines of the faith, reminding the reader that these people have been faithful, and God has been faithful, too.
Telling these stories reminds us that God speaks to God’s people. It gives us hope that God will still speak. Remembering activates recognition. When we remember how God has shown up in our past, we are able to recognize God in our present.
The Rev. Julie Long is associate pastor and minister of children and families at First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon.