Moments and Markers of Memory

Bonfire_Night_-_geograph_org_uk_-_1034248I’d forgotten it was Bonfire Night today. Remember, remember, the fifth of November, so they say, but I think it’s likely, but for glancing at my computer’s clock at just the right angle, that I’d’ve lived in ignorance until the sky lit up tonight.

So add November 5th to the Allhallowtide season of remembrance. We light fires to remember this one, launch fireworks into the air to celebrate the uncovering of a terrorist plot. Guy Fawkes is memorialised in other ways, of course, the masks of Anonymous embedding him, via V for Vendetta, into modern culture, but tonight he’ll make his mark on the landscape, all flames and smoke and explosions.

We mark the world around us in an attempt to lock down our memories as a people. Nowadays it’s blue plaques and war memorials. Back in the day, when Joshua entered the Promised Land, he took twelve stones from the Jordan to act as a focus for the story of the Hebrews. When Jacob has his strange, liminal wrestling match with God he renamed the place so that even geography would remember how he and his family came to be there. But time goes on; the memories fade; we remember fireworks more than we remember Fawkes. Memorials are baked into the world around us, but we rush past them, we don’t stop to read the plaques

Maybe the same problem affects Christianity’s central ritual. The bread and the wine mark a pause in time and space when we can gather as a community and remember Calvary and the empty tomb. But I’m as guilty as anyone of eating and drinking too quickly, of not taking the time to remember even during an act of remembrance. I’ve been thinking a lot about how the church ‘remembers’ over the last few days, but really it’s about more than recollection. If we forget the important things we’re doomed to repeat the bad things, and it doesn’t matter how much space we create for memory, we still have to actively remember, to make this a part of our lives. Are the memories we need to sustain us truly embedded within us, not just the physical world of commemorations and calendars?

Or do we forget, even in the middle of our rituals?


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