22 November 2017

The Smiles We Left Behind

The 7th of 15 in a Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.

The next intention is "that no memories of past experiences may disturb us in any way, but that the Lord will touch and heal us with hope for a better future." Again, it's tempting to isolate this into memories of sex or impure actions in the past, but we we will learn with intention #9, all sort of things get wrapped up in leading us into sin, in triggering us. Even coming to this as a virgin, one never having a sexual experience, there are memories that can trip us up.

Recently I was reminded of something my dad did when I was in 5th grade. I was reminded of it by combination of things: Dad stressing out over a family matter, my parents discussing the same matter around me as I tried to work at the kitchen table, and having, that morning, taken my cat to the vet. This combination of all three things recalled a memory from 1975. The actual memory is unimportant. But the emotions it aroused were visceral, real, and present in 2017; so much so that I took them to confession. Memories can stir up all sorts of disturbances: not only bad memories, but also good ones, sad ones, memories of past falls, and memories of past success as well.

If the previous intention about our imagination was about a hypothetical future that doesn't exist yet, this one is about a past that no longer exists. And it is equally malleable. We can make the past out to be all sorts of things, block it out, hide it, replay it, rewrite it. Yes, a certain series of things happened, but: we don't have perfect recall. Our memories become the stories we tell and the stories we tell become our memories. We don't have a video of all things in our past to playback whenever we wish. Things start to get distorted as we walk away, analyzing as we go. Within moments we've closed off a data set in our brain that is already awash in thoughts, interpretations, might have beens, should have beens, and the constant cataloging that our brains do. Recalling the memory, even a moment later, we're already pulling up from all that mental muck to look at it again, finding it covered with accretions, and only recognizable through the filters of our processing.

Yes, it's possible that it's going to disturb us somehow.

Additionally it is uncharitable: my Dad is not the man he was in 1975. I am not the child I was. Our relationship has very little present in it now that it had then. We're both adults now. But the other day, I was 11 again. And he was a prime target of anger and my judgement: anger and judgement wielded by an adult, but driven by a child. Memories are dangerous - they can make us out into lovers from a melodrama, unable to escape from the destructive patterns we wove in the first act; or like antiheroes, getting revenge against our bullies at the 30th reunion.

There is a good use for Memory, for Mindfulness: calling to mind our sins. St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, gave us a process called "The Examen". Although I've read several new-agey versions of it, that do everything to pull us into a feel-good moment of "Spirituality", St Ignatius' original text was anything but.

  1. The first point is to give thanks to God Our Lord for the favors received.
  2. The second point is to ask for grace to know my sins and to rid myself of them.
  3. The third point is to demand an account of my soul from the time of rising up to the present examination. I should go over one hour after another, one period after another. The thoughts should be examined first, then the words, and finally, the deeds in the same order (as was explained under the particular Examination of Conscience).
  4. The fourth point will be to ask pardon of God our Lord for my faults. 
  5. The fifth point will be to resolve to amend with the grace of God. Close with an Our Father.

St Ignatius suggests that this be done at the end of every day, this spiritual exercise of the Examen. It's not really a very feel-good exercise. The "Particular Examination" which he suggests needs to be done twice a day, is the same sort of process, but done looking for a particular fault that we should struggle against and overcome over and over, falling and rising again each time. When we wake we should stipulate what it is we are fighting against, and then twice, once after midday meal and once after the evening meal we should look for that fault in the preceding hours. Cap the day off with the general Examen around bed time.

Imagine waking up and trying to tackle lust, for example. And then twice a day, examination of every through, word, and deed, for lust.

This three-fold process is for an Ignatian Retreat. It might be good, as well, as part of Lent. But the daily General Examination is supposed to be daily. That's what memory is for. I find it helps to journal. I'm also not very good at it. But it leads well into the general confession that comes in the opening of Night Prayer (Compline). It's not supposed to disturb us in anyway (other than to give us a sense of Compunction). Why not disturb us: because we are Christians. We know that we are sinners. We should have (or grow into quickly) an adult sense of our sinfulness which is not one of shame and guilt, but one of struggle, of ascesis,  as the Greek Christians say, or the Slavic Christians, "Podvig", and the Arab Christians say "Jihad".  It's the great self-immolation, the martyrdom of the ego.

This holy use of Memory for Struggle is the first sense of Hope: the Universal Call to Holiness, as St John Paul the Great named it means, first, the realization that we are not, yet, holy. And we have work to do. By God's grace alone, we can do it. Praying on that, the Lord will touch and heal us through hope for a better a future.

This hope should drive us forward, not only in our Angelic Warfare, but in all that we do! Our relationships, our jobs, our actions online and off, should all be driven by the hope: that Sainthood is possible for each of us, because what God calls us to do, he gives us the grace to accomplish through his Son, and his Son's body, the Church, and the Sacraments which are the very means of making present in our life the action of Christ in his.