It occurred to me the other day that the purpose of much of our spiritual life – most of the praying, fasting, reading, celebrating that we do – is to remind us of things that we already know.
When Adam was first placed in the Garden, he knew that God was good and worthy of all honor and obedience; just a short while later he forgot how important all that was and ate the apple. Over and over again, we learn essential spiritual truths – and then we become distracted by the world, by what seem like important everyday concerns, by emotions and passions, and we forget. We are also driven to forget by our restlessness, our desire for new things and ideas and styles; as a culture, we’ve elevated the desire for change almost to the status of theology. But God does not change and His truths do not change; all we do as Christians is to continually bring ourselves back to those starting points.
It seems to me that no one understand this better than the Jews. “Remember and do not forget” are powerful words in Deuteronomy. While the Easter celebration is focused on grieving and then rejoicing with Christ, the dominant theme of the Passover seder, reinforced by powerful symbolism as well as explicitly in the Haggadah, is remembering. And as a culture, Jews have a long memory – for the victims among them, for their persecutors, for their roots in the Holy Land. To honor those who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, Israelis plant trees at Yad Va-Shem – trees that live for centuries and serve as perpetual reminders. Judith Kornblatt cites interviews with completely secularized Soviet Jews for whom Jewish identity is related not to the Jewish religion, but to knowing Jewish history and remembering the Holocaust.
When this tenacious memory is turned to the task of remembering grievances, it can do psychological damage. But when it is a memory of God’s word and His justice – a memory that defies the fickleness of human interest, which paganism both modern and ancient reinforces through its ever-growing pantheon and its subjection of all values to human desire – it is the Jews’ greatest spiritual gift.