Lasting Memories

 

By the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Memorial Day Weekend
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, May 24, 1998

Readings

Psalm 143 I remember the days of old

O Lord, hear my prayer; listen to my cry for mercy;
In your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
For no one living is righteous before you.

The enemy pursues me, crushing me to the ground,
Making me dwell in darkness like those long dead.
So my spirit grows faint within me;
My heart within me is dismayed.

I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
And consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you;
My soul thirsts for you like a parched land.

Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
Or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
For I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
For to you I lift up my soul.

Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord,
For I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God;
May your good Spirit lead me on level ground.

For your name's sake, O Lord, preserve my life;
In your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
Destroy all my foes, for I am your servant.


Matthew 10:40-42 Giving a cup of cold water

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of righteousness will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, truly I tell you, he will not lose his reward.


Arcana Coelestia #561 Lasting impressions

What are "lasting impressions"? They are not only the good and true things we have learned from the Word of the Lord since early childhood, which have been imprinted on our memory, but all the experiences that come from these good and true things: experiences of innocence in early childhood; experiences of love for our parents, brothers and sisters, teachers, and friends; experiences of kindness toward others, and of compassion for the poor and needy; in short, every experience that involves goodness and truth. These experiences, along with the good and true things that have been imprinted on our memory, are called lasting impressions, which the Lord preserves with us and stores away in our inner self, though we ourselves are not directly aware of it at all.

Sermon

I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. (Psalm 143:5)

This is a weekend of memories. Of course, it is a weekend of memories of those who have gone before us. The graveyards of our country receive more visitors on this weekend than at any other time of year. Yet those of us who believe in an afterlife do not visit the graves of our loved ones who have died to mourn (unless it was a recent death, still fresh on our hearts), but to remember those with whom we have shared treasured times of our lives.

Memorial Day weekend is a weekend of memories in a different way as well: it is a weekend for creating memories. Many people take trips over Memorial Day weekend. Visiting family; camping; even going to the park to fly a kite. It is a time we often gather together with our family and friends to enjoy the company of the living. Our enjoyment of these special times creates memories that we carry with us into the years to come.

We may think that these memories are, so to speak, frosting on the cake of life--that they are a sweet addition to our life, but that we could do quite well without them. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, these times when we play together, touch each other, and relax in the warmth of each other's love are vital to our very survival on many levels.

Physically, as babies if we do not experience the warmth of love in human contact, cuddling, caring, we will literally die. This was discovered in a very unfortunate way when babies in a nursery that were not picked up and held simply did not survive. Nor does our need for human touch and love stop when we are babies. As adults, we can survive without touch, but it is a rather grim kind of survival. Without regular physical contact with others, we tend to shrivel up emotionally and spiritually; we lose the joy and excitement in our lives, as if we were subsisting on dry crusts of bread.

To survive emotionally and spiritually, we also need the warmth of loving relationships on the deeper levels of human life. As children, we need to know that someone loves us. We need those expressions of love from our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, and friends. Without that feeling of being loved, children withdraw into a shell, or become angry, lashing out in ways that seem to make no sense; or they hungrily search for love in all the wrong places, resulting in pain and betrayal, teen pregnancies, drug abuse, gangs, and many other destructive behaviors and damaging experiences.

And just as with physical touch, we adults also need the spiritual touch of love from others and for others. We seek that love in marriage and family; we seek it in close friendships that we build up with those we feel we can trust and open ourselves up to. Without this, once again, we shrivel up inside, and find ourselves living a very sad and dry life.

Why are physical and spiritual touch so important to us? From a material standpoint, it seems as if we should be able to survive just fine without continual contact with others. After all, our body simply needs nourishment, air, sunshine, exercise, rest, and so on--and none of these require other people to be with us. Yet we are not merely physical beings. We are also beings of spirit. And just as food and sunshine provide nourishment to our physical bodies, love and understanding provide nourishment to our spirits. Without love, expressed through sharing thoughts and feelings, working and playing together, touching each other--without love, we die spiritually, because without love we are deprived of our spiritual food and our spiritual sunshine. Without understanding, learning, knowledge, our inner growth is stunted, and we become unable to fully express the love that is within us.

Also like food, the spiritual nourishment we receive makes a lasting impression on us. If we grow up with a poor diet and a lack of sunshine, air, and exercise, we will become sickly even if we started out with a healthy constitution. On the other hand, those who inherit genetically transmitted diseases can live longer and healthier lives than they otherwise would through careful attention to healthful living practices. Our bodies are imprinted by the nourishment and care they receive--and if that nourishment and care is seriously lacking, we will die early as our body breaks down under the strain.

Our mental and emotional experiences also make lasting impressions on us. Like physical food, our spiritual food--love and understanding--help us to build healthy spirits if that food is plentiful and healthful; but we will languish and die spiritually if that food is poor, or lacking altogether. Parents who may be fine people themselves, but who neglect to give their children the spiritual nourishment that they themselves received as children, will handicap their children in a way that is far more damaging than any physical handicap could ever be. On the other hand, children who are born in very dismal physical and financial circumstances can become strong and good adults if they are given that precious spiritual nourishment of religious teaching and genuine love from those who care about them.

We do not need to experience--or offer--some amazing act of selfless love to be deeply affected. As Jesus said, even a cup of cold water offered to a little one can lead to great reward--a reward felt by both the giver and the receiver of the gift.

As I look back on my own life, memories flood to mind of these gifts, usually given without fanfare or any realization of their long-term power. Once when I was six or eight years old, and my family was on a camping trip, I was walking along a path with some of by brothers and sisters. We came to a place where the path split into three. I was sure I knew which one we should take. My siblings tried to convince me otherwise, but to no avail--I was stubbornly determined to take that path. So they let me. Soon I was completely lost, and very scared that I would never see my family again. It was probably only five or ten minutes that I was out there on my own, but it seemed like hours. I stumbled along, crying, until I came to a place where a chain link fence blocked my path. I started to climb the fence. As I reached the top, I felt hands lifting me down. It was one of my brothers, who had come out to look for me. He probably never knew how much relief flooded into me when he took me down from that fence. I was saved! And at a deeper level that I was probably not aware of at the time, I knew that even when I stubbornly insisted on doing stupid things, there were people who loved me and cared about me, and who would go out of their way to help me out of the trouble I got myself into.

Sometimes we are on the giving end without even realizing it. Once when I was sledding with some of my brothers and sisters at a very popular hill nearby, a kid started picking on my younger brother, jumping on top of him and punching him. I was bigger than this kid, so I calmly walked over to him and bodily picked him up off my brother, told him to knock it off, and promptly forgot the incident. The only reason I have any knowledge of it now is that over twenty years later, my brother mentioned it in the course of conversation, saying he had really appreciated what I'd done for him. For me, it didn't seem like anything; for him, it was that feeling of being saved by someone who cared about him.

These experiences--these lasting impressions from earlier years--are what keep us going in a very real way. Even if no one involved fully realizes their significance at the time, it is no accident that we build up impressions of love and understanding from the time we are conceived, throughout our infancy and childhood, and all through all the rest of our life here on earth. For we are not really the ones giving these precious gifts. It is the Lord within us who gives the gifts--who moves us to show kindness and understanding for one another. When I pulled that kid off my brother, I thought nothing of it. But the Lord saw the entire situation, and prompted me from within to do what needed to be done--just as it was not only my older brother, but my parents, and ultimately the Lord, who prompted him to come after me and lift me off of the fence that I was blindly climbing.

All of this gives new and deeper meaning to our observances of Memorial Day. When we cherish and honor the memories of those who have loved us and cared for us, it is not merely a sentimental notion that "practical" people can do without. It is a recognition that without their love and care--and without the Lord, who gives us the ability to love and care for each other--we could never have become the people we are today, able to love others, to care for others, to show others the way, to share of ourselves with others.

And this also reminds us that we are the ones who are helping to build up these same vital impressions in those that we care for, in those who look up to us as their parents, their grandparents, their family members, their friends. The little day-to-day kindnesses that we show to each other are not something we can take or leave, something that will make no difference one way or the other. Simple acts of thoughtfulness; a helpful pointer to someone who is lost; an arm around the shoulder of someone who is feeling down; these are the very substance and nourishment of our existence, forming lasting memories and deep impressions of love and understanding that can keep us going through all the passages of our lives. Amen.



To Memorial Day Index



Music is In the Garden
1999 Bruce De Bois

Floating Butterfly Script by
 Dynamic Drive