Introduction to Memory

Introduction to Memory

Throughout much of North American history, Unitarian Universalists have tended to be unkind to memory. We’ve given it the label “tradition,” and treated it mostly as something that holds us back. Tradition, in this negative view, cuts us off from a direct experience with the holy and tries to shape us rather than allowing us the freedom to shape ourselves. This attitude has left us, as a faith, wary of the past, depicting it simply as a place where one gets stuck.

But our shared history is not simply a place that traps us; history cradles the roots which nourish and stabilize us.  Roots need care and tending.  This month let’s pay attention to what is often neglected, and remember the history, both positive and challenging, which has formed the people of the chalice.  If memory had a voice, it wouldn’t sing “remember me.” It would call out, “don’t forget who you are.”  Memories are both collective and individual.

Although as a tradition we often ignore our past, sometimes as individuals we cling to a memory of a better time or better relationship, championing the past as a golden time when all was good.  We hold on so tight to the idealized memory that we miss the good in today, and forget that past times were usually as flawed as present times.  Sometimes our memory of an event isn’t really what happened, memories are not always trustworthy.

This is the paradox of memory: memory keeps us rooted and stable, and yet memory shifts, sometimes unreliable, sometimes lost, sometimes refreshed. It’s the dance we do as individuals, religious traditions, and cultures. As we learn, we remember differently, we change, and the memories change too. Roots are not static, they also grow deeper.

This month we explore what it means to be people of memory, the memories we cherish, the ones we try to lose along the way, the memories that surprise us with fresh understanding.




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