THE SPIRITUAL PRACTICE OF REMEMBERING.
Paperback: Eerdmans, 2013.
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Reviewed By Bob Cornwall
*** This review originally appeared on the reviewer’s blog and is reprinted here with permission.
What spiritual value is to be found in the past? Americans have a tendency to neglect history. We may at times remake it so it fits with our current perspectives on life, but finding spiritual value in remembering seems at odds with our age. There is a lot of talk these days about being “ancient/modern,” but the more that I read in that vein I’m not sure that history is being taken all that seriously. Ancient words and practices are pulled out of their context and re-utilized in ways that do not respect that context. The past be utilized, but will we truly find spiritual nourishment? Will we find ourselves in a conversation with our ancestors that will provide wisdom?
Margaret Bendroth is a historian and director of the Congregational Library in Boson. She cares deeply about history but she also cares deeply about the church and its future. Part of her job is to help congregations make sense of their past. What to keep and what to toss? What is mere nostalgia and what is deeply connected to the faith story of a congregation?
There is a cost, she suggests, to forgetting our past, but by doing so we cut ourselves off from the very sources of our faith. We cut ourselves from that network of persons and beliefs that have been present over two thousand years. She reminds us:
When twenty-first-century Christians gather to sing and pray, when they practice the sacraments of baptism and communion, they are not making up those forms on the spot. All of those are an inheritance from centuries of Christian belief and practice. (9).
It is not that everything that has come before us is right and good, but the faith we hold today is rooted in a shared history. To understand the meaning of these practices requires a good bit of remembering. Of course, many have experienced badly taught history, focusing mere names and dates without any sense of relevance for our lives today. Bendroth seeks to correct this problem.
The author begins with exploring our current dilemma of living in an eternal present. We’re stuck in the now, not able to move forward because we do not understand from whence we came. Sometimes we do get caught up in nostalgia, a sense of homesickness for what we thought was, but to a place we can never return. Remembering, therefore, is not the same as being nostalgic. This is why liturgical time is so helpful. It brings us, as we journey through the seasons into conversation with those who have gone on this path before us, so that we might be enriched for the journey into the future.