When we forget (and oh, how we forget), our senses can trigger an awakening of remembrance and place, and suddenly we are back as though it were yesterday. Sense-memory is such an exquisite gift from God, especially our sense of smell; the olfactory system is the one most laden with memory. You’ve experienced this I’m sure—one whiff of cut grass, canned peaches, salt air or pine bark, and you are back in your dearest places and memories. For me, the sweet, moist, almost tobacco-like blend of cottonwood, willow, and river bottom—riparian ecosystems—will forever mean summer, adventure, wildness, family. As I watch the snow fall outside my window, I return to the stories of this past summer, and my soul is nourished. Comforted. Opened again to the goodness of God.
Try this: name three beautiful truths that came to you last year, moments when you had utter clarity and your soul was practically rescued by it. No? How about this: name three delightful gift experiences from God in the last several months. You see what I mean. Forgetfulness is a spiritual pandemic ravaging humanity, with dangerous and lethal repercussions. This is why God strikes the bells to “remember” so often in the Old and New Testaments:
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. (Deuteronomy 4:9)
In that day their strong cities ... will be like places abandoned to thickets and undergrowth. And all will be desolation. You have forgotten God your Savior; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress. (Isaiah 17:9–10)
Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast. (Revelation 3:3)
By the way, this intentional use of memory is a cure for one of the soul’s most common diseases, that “what have you done for me lately?” posture we fall into towards God. That unattractive attitude of ransomed Israel when they whined, “Sure, you delivered us from slavery; you’ve miraculously fed us every morning; but what about spring water? Can you do that? What about some meat?” I hate this part of me. Will you come through for my children this time? For this trip? This need? It’s embarrassing.
Memory pulls us out by turning back to the goodness of God in our past. It allows us to savor the many gifts he has given. I’m suggesting you establish a practice of it.