September 11th has become a national day of remembrance, both in this country and beyond. Particularly for those who were living in New York City and Washington DC, and especially for those who lost loved ones in the attack, September 11th is a day to remember, to lift up connections with individuals and communities, to speak the names of family members and friends, to grieve, to love, and to hope.
I would argue that remembrance is a profoundly theological act, particularly for Christians, whose hope is grounded both in a God who remembers God’s people, and in the Spirit-filled body of Christ in which we are linked forever, sharing life together in Jesus Christ even across the valley of death.
Even though memory can be a curse, as we continue to be burdened with painful memories we long to forget, memory is also a precious gift–a gift we both give to and receive from others as we nurture in our hearts and in our minds those with whom we have shared experiences and grace-filled words and deeds. Some of these people continue to be a part of our lives, but many of them do not; we pass in and out of each others’ lives all the time in the ebb and flow of our life together, and so often our encounters are brief, unexceptional, and unremarkable. And yet, it seems to me that it is those same brief, unexceptional encounters that often do have lasting effect, and we do well to “mark” them, as this gives us the opportunity to remind ourselves of who we are, how we got here, and those who guided and shaped us along the way.
Here is a simple example I was thinking about this morning, as I was remembering where I was on 9/11–in Berkeley, California, working on my Ph.D. For about a year while I was there, my friend and I took an Ashtanga Yoga class from the best yoga instructor I have ever had. She was a fabulous practitioner herself, of course, but what I loved about her is that she made me feel fabulous, even though I most definitely am not. I am about as flexible as an oak tree, and my poses typically do not resemble in any way the images they are supposed to evoke: a triangle, a crocodile, a pigeon. Really, I am always one of the worst ones in the class. However, this yoga teacher–whose name I have forgotten–didn’t care: she taught me that yoga is not about being “the best,” but about paying attention to one’s breath, being attentive and caring toward your body, and infusing your practice with compassion.
For whatever reason, those lessons really stuck with me, such that even though I am a terrible over-achiever in every other aspect of my life [to my detriment, I know!], when I go to yoga class, I just don’t care how I look, or how I measure up to anyone else. I rest in child’s pose whenever I am tired, even if everyone else is holding down-dog for 10 breaths. I put my knees down in plank when my arms are shaking, even if everyone else is holding their bodies perfectly straight. I simply don’t care: I attend to my breath, practice compassion for myself and others, and every time I am finished I feel strong and at peace.
I wish I could tell that yoga teacher now what a meaningful and lasting gift she gave me all those years ago; but instead, I do the next best thing: I hold her in my head and in my heart, and I give thanks for her. And in so doing, I know that we are connected still.
Through the creative, expansive power of the Holy Spirit, living and moving through the whole creation, God remembers us–all of us–and God holds us in God’s heart and in God’s hands. In this way, God connects us over time and space, and none of us are forgotten, all of us have meaning and purpose; and, in the end, this vast community of life is perfected, renewed and restored in the kingdom of God. In this way, remembering the past is also a way of trusting in the future, where we will not only see God face to face, but those whom we carry with us as well.