I remember as a child sitting on the edge of a red-upholstered pew, gripping the wooden arm, one foot in the aisle.
I was waiting, I was listening.
The pastor of our Methodist church was notably scripted and long-winded in the Sunday morning liturgy, a word which I had I known it at the time I would have spoken out loud with a grimace and a sneer. He was the older people’s pastor, speaking a language that didn’t belong in my world of girls, baseball, and fights picked over neighborhood squabbles.
I stared at the ceiling – painted angel-white with a large crossbeam suspended at the center by a single column descending from the A-shaped ceiling. I knew, from memory, that there was an aluminum foil ball somewhere on that crossbeam. I knew that because I was there when one of the high school students from our church tossed it ever so deftly that it landed and rested there. It has been so ever since.
I also waited and I listened.
I have grown in later years to appreciate liturgy for the way it carries us. The road is set and after a few seasons in worship we begin to know the contours, and therefore we don’t have to process the whole course again.
We hear the prayer and we know the cadence, and we step into the flow with our fellow travelers. In a world where economically, politically, spiritually and emotionally I fight the ebb and flow of decentralization, it is comforting to stand in the middle of what is known and cry out about the unknown.
However, the child that is me, with one foot in the aisle also enjoyed liturgy, for a different reason: I had so memorized the prayer and the cadence at the end of each week’s worship that I was halfway down the aisle before the final “Amen.”
Then I dodged the “grip and grin” line with the pastor, knowing that he had seen me dozing and drifting and narrating stories to the ceiling and then I broke out of the sanctuary with the speed and intent of a convict springing towards daylight.
On to bigger, and more childlike things. Freedom.
Despite my distraction, this is the first place I heard about God or even heard the word God. My conclusion therefore was that He had aged substantially and might need to pick up the tempo a bit.
It would take some years before that story could be rewritten, because the mountain of memory evidence was overwhelming, and more was added to that number daily.
We cannot encounter God outside of our own memories.
Even the word "God" has an entry in our brain's database. It is stamped with a date and time, but more than that it is given a context.
Memory is always content (the word, the idea, the fact) in context (the place, time, and season).
To know how we know God is to recall how we first met Him. This sounds strange, yes. But...
Memories create stories.
Stories write the scripts of our lives.
Spiritual transformation then is a change of our script.
To change the script, you have to encounter the memory.
What memory haunts you, right in this moment? The one you'd like to do away with. The one you'd like to forget, if that were truly possible by force.
The truth is, the life you've been living has been scripted by that memory and others that have come afterward.
The compassionate God is now stepping into the scene - into the script, picking up elements and pieces and saying, "Perhaps we change the story this memory has been telling you."
That moment brings life. Renewal. Grace. Hope.
Today, take a look at the story of your life. What memories have built that story? Where is a key point that God can bring a new story out of an old memory?