Over 1600 years ago St. Augustine wrote on the power of memory and its role in our relationship with God.
Great is the power of memory, a fearful thing, O my God, a deep and boundless manifoldness; and this thing is the mind, and this am I myself. What am I then, O my God? What nature am I? A life various and manifold, and exceeding immense. Behold in the plains, and caves, and caverns of my memory, innumerable and enumerably full of innumerable kinds of things, either through images, as all bodies; or by actual presence, as the arts, or be certain notions or impressions, as the affections of the mind, which, even when the mind doth not feel, the memory retainteth, while yet whatsoever is in the memory is also in the mind–over all these do I run, I fly; I dive on this side and on that, as far as I can, and there is no end.
So great is the force of memory, so great the force of life, even in the mortal life of man. What shall I do then, O Thou my true life, my God? I will pass even beyond this power of mine which is called memory: yea, I will pass beyond it, that I may approach unto Thee, O sweet Light. What sayest Thou to me? See, I am mounting up through my mind towards Thee who abides above me. Yea, I now will pass beyond this power of mine which is called memory, desirous to arrive at Thee, whence Thou mayest be arrived at; and to cleave unto Thee, whence one may cleave unto Thee. For even beasts and birds have memory; else could they not return to their dens and nests, nor many other things they are used unto: nor indeed could they be used to any thing, but by memory.
I will pass then beyond memory also that I may arrive at Him who hath separated me from the four-footed beasts and made me wiser than the fowls of the air, I will pass beyond memory also, and where shall I find Thee, Thou truly good and certain sweetness? And where shall I find Thee? If I find Thee without my memory, then do I not retain Thee in my memory. And how shall I find Thee, if I remember Thee not?
The Confessions of Saint Augustine, The Tenth Book.
Augustine’s celebration of the mind and memory moves me to consider the purpose of the mind in my experience and knowledge of God.
Jesus intends to create pathways of memory to bring us to Him.
“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'” Luke 22:19-20
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:25-26
The Psalmist cries out that his memories are useful for identifying his thirst for a new and current encounter with the Living God.
“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like parched land.” Psalm 143:5-6
I’ve been thinking about some friends who are new believers in Jesus Christ. If you are a new believer in Christ Jesus you have a short memory of God’s grace towards you. Grace is God’s activity on your behalf to do for you what you could not do apart from Him (Dallas Willard). You do not yet have a lengthy history with Jesus and His grace. So your mind like all believers must be renewed and the Holy Spirit is working to that end. I want to daily recall the Gospels and see Jesus again. The reading of His Word in the Gospels is not a mere activity to dutifully complete. No, the reading of His Word is the work of my mind under the influence of the Holy Spirit that can usher me again into the very presence of God. So it is with many of our disciplines:
The reading of His Word is an act of remembering drawing us to Jesus.
The listing of His blessings and giving thanks remembers and brings us to Jesus.
The confession of my sins is an act of memory bringing me to Jesus.
The lament for what I grieve is an act of memory bringing me to Jesus.
The giving of the tithe is an act of memory bringing me to Jesus.
The gathering with other believers is an act of memory bringing us to Jesus.
The singing of a song is an act of memory bringing us to Jesus.
The telling of a testimony is an act of remembering bringing us again to Jesus.
All these acts are meant to engage the mind not for the production of sentimentality or condemnation. Instead our growing memory of God’s grace towards us is meant to usher us again into the reality of His Kingdom, the promise of His full redemption, and acknowledgement of His Presence with us as Lord.