“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deut. 8:11-14).
Barney: “Have you seen my shoes? I need to put them on before I go home.”
Me: “You are home, Granddaddy.”
Barney: “No I’m not. This is just where I’m staying until I go.”
Me: “But…I understand.”
My grandfather was a minister for 64 years. He began showing signs of dementia many years ago. Since my grandmother passed, his mind has been slipping more rapidly into the void. Watching his decline, I have learned that the world of humanity consists in memories. I’ve also learned that memories are married to names. When one is lost, so the other, and whatever piece of the world went with them.
Of all the names that have fallen into that inglorious abyss, which includes mine, it was saddest to see my grandmother’s go. Never again will I get to hear the story about the first time he saw her, standing on a sidewalk in a white dress: “She looked like an angel.” Never again will I get to see her memory become wet in his grieving eyes only to be consoled back into laughter by yet another moment shared still in his mind. She was always visible as a glow in his face, even under the hanging weight of his grief. But now there is neither glow nor grief. That part of his world and that part of his face are gone. And I suspect that if it were up to him, he would welcome the grief back in endless waves if only he could salvage that glowing memory of his long forgotten angel. But she is lost to him.
But she is not lost! And she is not lost to him forever. Because the one Name that still puts color in his face and fills his mouth like lead is the Name of the One whose hands first joined them together. And His grieving hands are as stubborn as nails that refuse to let go of the dead. So my grandfather may not have my grandmother’s hand anymore to hold, but he still daily folds his hands in prayer—and he has never forgotten in whose Name his prayers are made. That world still belongs wholly to him, and he wholly to it.
So perhaps in this way, he has forgotten nothing. For those who remember where they are going, not even a single drop of the past will be lost.
This Advent, may the Lord of Life marry our memory to the Name above every Name who has married himself to the lowest of every low. May we remember where God has come, lest we forget where we are going.
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.