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Memory, Identity, and Spiritual Direction

Memory is in the plan of God. It is meant to be able to shape our identity as sons and daughters of God.

What is memory?

The memory is not just stored data or facts. Memory in the human sense is a lingering experience. Because we exist in time, that is, we are born, we grow, we age, memory is something that allows us to embrace meaning from our experiences. 

The experiences that linger tend to be the ones that have the most meaning for us. 

They shape our life and our person. We can remember the details of an event when it is important.  It has an effect on us that stirs within, and has an ongoing influence on us. It is the holding on to the experience of God, or rather allowing the experience of God to hold us, our mind, hearts and will that forms our identity.

We are shaped by the experiences of life and how those memories hold us are constitutive of our lived identity. 

Memory, in turn, is also affected by our identity. Who we are also helps us to experience things in a certain way. 

Remembering the events that define

Memory is not going back in time or living in the past, but a holding on and retaining of certain experiences here and now with God. 

Reading the Sacred Scripture helps us to remember the stories that define us. Scripture is a recounting of events within the narrative of what God is doing in history, ultimately leading to the fullness of his revelation, Jesus Christ. Memory is in some way meant to prepare us for this encounter with Christ. 

Other ways for us to remember God’s presence in history are the spiritual exercises and the liturgical calendar of the Church. 

“Do this in memory of me” (Lk. 22:19)

Christ reveals Himself gradually and progressively in Scripture, through real events and experiences that the disciples learned to remember, lingering with them and turning them over in their hearts. 

Christ institutes the Eucharist as the ultimate living memory of himself. It makes present what Christ did for us. The Eucharist is the incarnation of the memory of God, which is why it is the source and summit of the Church’s life. 

Mary teaches us memory

We learn what it means to hold on to memories by the example of Mary. 

In Luke 2, we see that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (2:19) and later, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart” (2:51).

Mary held onto these events of revelation like a treasure, taking care that nothing be lost. It is being held by these memories that deepens her faith and awareness of God’s presence in the concrete circumstances of her life. 

Our life is also a series of events or revelations of God. To live with faith is to live the reality of our lives as the action of God. 

St. John Paul II calls Mary the memory of the Church. She remembers the events of God and allows herself to be deeply shaped by them. Theological memory is to carry our experience in hope. 

We see time and time again in Scripture, that after momentous events, such as in the life of Moses, Tobit, Hannah or Mary that there is a canticle of praise and thanksgiving to God, remembering what he has done. 

Learning to pray with the events of our life in the same way helps us hold their meaning. 

How to remember

We must give ourselves the time and space to discover the meaning of God’s action in our lives. 

Some ways that we can do that is journaling or a spiritual diary, which can help to express, process, and remember the movements of one’s interiority. A spiritual lifemap or the examen prayer can also help us to actively remember God’s action over the course of our life or in the happenings of our daily life. 

Prayer is ultimately an exercise of bringing our experiences to God to allow him to speak into them and help us discover their meaning. 

Spiritual direction is a particularly privileged place of unpacking the events and situations of our life in faith, hope and love. It helps us to hold on to events and situations theologically, retelling them in the light of faith, hope and love and allowing us to see the divine meaning they have. Spiritual direction helps us become more fully aware of God’s plan in our life.

Are you called to accompany others as a spiritual director? Check out Divine Mercy University’s Spiritual Direction Certificate  for more information.

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