When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”
(Joshua 4:6-7 ESV)
We have weak memories when it comes to what God has done to make us who we are. The events, episodes, and experiences that shaped us fade like the last rays of light during a sunset. The circumstances that seemed so vivid in the moment grow dull with the passage of time. That’s why we need physical, material, experiential reminders to sharpen our hindsight.
The need for a sensory experience of the past penetrated my heart when I visited my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. It had been eight years since the glow of the Golden Dome alighted my eyes. I had spent five years at the school–four years as an undergrad, then one more year as an intern with their Campus Ministry Department.
A (Literal) Walk Down Memory Lane
I didn’t know how much I missed the place until I started seeing the exit signs for South Bend on the highway. I was traveling with my wife, Janee’, and two year old son, Jack, over the holidays. We had just come from a wedding at a nearby town in Michigan and I couldn’t pass up a chance to show my family “Our Lady’s University”. Janee’ merely rolled her eyes when I literally started bouncing up and down behind the steering wheel. I had tried to play it cool with Jack, but I just couldn’t help referring to him as our future “domer”.
When we stepped on campus I stepped back in time. Incidental memories cascaded my consciousness. The moss colored frame on the bicycle that carried me (mostly late) to and from my classes. The crown-like shape of the dull golden key that let me into my dorm room. The ubiquitous layers of snow spread across the quads like linen tablecloths.
Then the “so-real-you-can-touch-them” recollections misted into my mind. I thought about the crushing weight of being a minority of minorities at school: Protestant and African American on an unabashedly Catholic and overwhelmingly White campus. I drifted back to the six months spent studying abroad in Jerusalem and the 14 other travelers who found kindred spirits among each other.
I recollected the joy of switching my major from Business Marketing to American Studies so I could take classes on journalism, culture, and our nation’s history. I could feel John Piper’s book Desiring God in my hands and the buoyancy in my heart as I realized that there was a long history of believers who took the Bible seriously.
These are the memories that have made me who I am today. These are the memories I never would have thought to unearth had I not been physically present at the place where so many of them had occurred.
Memories and the Physical Senses
There’s something about the senses that makes memories so much more vivid. Touching the buildings, walking the sidewalks, seeing the people, tasting the food, smelling the scents–it brings you back to a place that time has already swirled past and makes it real again.
Like the Israelites passing through the Jordan as God brought them into the Promised Land we, too, need to set up memorial stones. We need these physical signs of where we’ve been and what God has done in our lives. We need to revisit those stones occasionally to run our fingers over their grainy surface, let our eyes wander the mish-mash of colors, and pause to recall why we put the stones there in the first place.
Revisiting Your Memorial Stones?
Is there season of life you need to revisit in a sensory way? Do you need to go back to your memorial stones to conjure up the times when the Lord cut off the waters of life’s Jordan rivers and allowed you to pass through safely? Maybe you can’t physically return to a place like I did, but there are other ways.
Pull out your old photos and make the two-dimensional snapshots into 3-D images in your mind’s eye. Call up a friend from a bygone era of your life and tell the stories that still make you laugh. Open up your old journal and pore over the pages. Or just sit back, close your eyes, and bring to mind the landmarks of your life.
We need to do this as Christians. Our memories are weak for the marvelous deeds of the Lord. We forget how God used our history to separate the dross from the silver in our souls. We need to constantly exert ourselves to revive the pictures of the past so that we can thank the Lord afresh for His goodness to us.
As we make those pilgrimages to the past we can say with the Psalmist,
“We give thanks to you, O God;
we give thanks, for your name is near.
We recount your wondrous deeds.” (Ps. 75:1)