Monday, May 18, 2015


Recently, I was reading a book about the theology of the Catholic Mass. Curiosity, really, and for many reasons. (No, I don't think I'm converting any time soon.) But there comes an interesting point in the Mass called the anamnesis.

They call it the remembering. 

It's a time set aside for those in attendance to remember the sacrifice of Christ, to remember the impact of God in their lives, to think about all the things they don't normally think about and to give space to the oft-forgotten holy among them. And I think to an extent, we all try to do this. In our daily lives. In our prayers. In our church services. In our Communion (and it turns out the entire Mass is sort of based around this act of Communion, or Eucharist). We do our best to remember what it is that God means to us, whenever we can.

What struck me most about this particular chapter, however, was the name given to this portion of the Mass. If it were merely the remembering, I think it would have to be called something else. Recollection, perhaps. Or Recalling. Even, one might be tempted to say, Remembering or Remembrance. But it's not called any of those things. It's called anamnesis.

Literally, "not forgetting."

(Amnesia, of course, is the loss of memory. The prefix an- negates the word that follows. So literally, "not losing memory" or "not forgetting.")

That is fundamentally different to me than simply remembering. Remember, to me, is an act of the will. I consciously recall something. I force myself to bring it up. I let it come washing over me, and I try..I try so hard to feel it all over again. To see, smell, taste, touch, sense it all over again. To let it touch my heart in the same way. To try to recall what it was like the first time it hit me. 

But not forgetting? Not forgetting is an act of willfulness. It's a refusal to let go. It's a conscious choice to keep something right in front of me. I don't have to work so hard to make not forgetting meaningful. I don't have to labor to bring up the same old feelings with it because I've never let it get so far away. I've never let go of it enough that I can't remember. It's right there. Right there on the tip of my experience, just waiting to be drawn back close. 

It's a subtle difference, maybe, but it seems like all the world to me. Remembering demands of me every little thing, and then it seems to be me who is making the moment. Not forgetting bears with it every little thing, and then it seems to be the moment that is making me. That's huge. In not forgetting, not only have I refused to let go, but I refuse to be let go of. I don't let those experiences fade off. I don't relegate them to the back of my mind somewhere. I don't have to remember...I have to only remember not to forget. And then those little moments just sink into me over and over and over again, deeper and deeper until they're cemented into my heart.

I think this actually works this way. At least, from my experience, it does. Recently, I've been through quite the spiritual journey (alongside a physical journey, as these things tend to go). And I've learned so much, and changed so much, just by trying to experience this life in a different way, centered in God, reflecting on what my faith is supposed to mean to times like these. Now, it's easy, of course, when things go back to normal (or whatever passes for normal) to forget all the spiritual things you've learned along the way. At least, it's easy for me. But this time, I just keep reminding myself not how much I want to remember. Remembering is so much work. But rather, that I do not want to forget. I don't want to forget what it's like to live out of that place, and so I keep coming back to it so that it never really gets away from me. A little more every day, it draws closer and closer still until it's just settling into my heart not as a memory, but as a new reality. Not in the act of constantly recalling, but in the discipline of refusing to forget in the first place. 

It really does change things. That's why I think it's so beautiful that the Mass addresses this time as anamnesis - the not forgetting. It's so beautiful.

So the question is this: are you spending your time with God trying to remember? Or are you spending it trying not to forget?

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