Thursday, September 19, 2013

Purification of memory

I was in some hot water with a close friend the other day, and I was mentally reviewing all the historical evidence why I was right and he was wrong.  I saw that my perspective on the situation was very influenced by my view of the "historical evidence," or the series of events that I believe supports my case that I'm right and he's wrong.  This led me to see that my belief in divine providence is influenced by my memory of the events in my life.  If, for example, I see my history as a litany of disappointments, then I'll will be tempted to see God either as not provident or not good.  The complaint we can all relate to goes something like this, "If God let this happen to me, then he either doesn't care about me or doesn't know what He's doing!"  I don't think this situation is unique to me so I thought I'd unpack it for a post.

Let's break this down a little bit using the example of work, which happens to be top of mind for me. Turning the complaint above into "logical" syllogisms might look something like this:

A provident God would want me to enjoy my work.
I have never enjoyed my work.
Therefore, God is not provident.

A good God would want me to enjoy my work.
I have never enjoyed my work
Therefore, God is not good.

Let's leave aside the many ways we could improve these syllogisms and focus on the truth of the statement, "I have never enjoyed my work."  In some form or another, we may really believe this statement.  Of course, we would admit that our work hasn't been all bad -- we've met good people, we've grown in virtue.  On balance, though, let's assume we would say that we haven't enjoyed it.  This is based on what we believe happened in our work, our memory of that experience.  If these memories are an obstacle to us believing that God is provident, then it would be good for us to take another look at these memories to see if we may be misinterpreting something or exaggerating the importance of another thing.  Of course, the syllogisms need some reworking, too, but let's focus on the historical evidence.

Our memories are powerful, so, to the extent possible, we want them at the service of God through our intellect.  To do this, it would be good to prayerfully consider our most vivid memories in light of the truths of the faith and with the perspective of time.  We can start with those memories that may be the source of grudges with other people.  "I can't tell him how I feel about work because he has never understood my perspective on it!"

Ok, gotcha.  That belief is certainly rooted in memories we have of particular conversations or actions of this hypothetical friend.  When we are not otherwise agitated about work or this friend, let us bring this memory up with Jesus during prayer in order to try to see it from His perspective and from our friend's perspective.  We may see that our limited perspective caused us to be oversensitive or judgmental and we may see that our friend could have been more encouraging and available.  It is also important to look for the good that God drew out of the event, why He let it happen and how we and our friend have grown through it.

While we don't need to confess the sins that we have committed before our last confession, to the extent that we harbor a negative bias against our friend, no matter how slight, on account of that event, it would be good to mention that in confession because the measure of our love for others is the love for the Trinity not "getting along."  This way our Lord's grace and the Holy Spirit can work directly on our heart to free us from that chain holding us down.

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