St. Augustine wrote that a good sermon should honor God, be excellent in its content and delivery, bless the listener, and expand the listener’s mind with new thoughts and ideas. Listening to sermons, lectures, and interviews is good for my brain, because it gets exercise instead of becoming atrophied. I recently watched an interview on YouTube where the interviewee gently corrected the interviewer about the wrong use of a word. Towards the end of the interview, he promised to send the interviewer a book that illustrates how people use words incorrectly in both everyday speech and on radio and tv.
As I reflected on that the interview, I found myself thinking about another word: forget. In a recent discussion, an event that occurred 30 years ago was brought up as though it happened yesterday. I was thinking how much better the situation would have been if, upon granting forgiveness, that act would have been forgotten completely. There is a great difference between forgiving and forgetting. Authentic forgiveness is hard work but forgetting is even more difficult.
Then I remembered an instance in which Paul wrote: Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it on my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14) Paul was aware that there were things he had to leave behind. There was a time when he was a persecutor of the church, there was a time when the apostles were reluctant to accept him in their circle, and there were times when the gospel he preached was challenged. If he dwelt on those things, they would have hindered him from doing what was important for the present. At one point he wrote that he no longer judged himself, because God knew his heart and his heart belonged entirely to God.(1 Corinthians 4:1-4) He must have experienced such freedom at that moment!
As I thought about how great it is to forget things, I remembered that I make my living by not forgetting things. I am a church historian who reads to remember, and the information stored in my mind is very useful as I teach. Now that I have begun my 8th century of life, the cerebral synapses do not work as quickly as they did in my youth. But I still think of myself as 17 and I do not know who switched the numbers to 71! When a question is asked during my class and the synapses are not firing as quickly as I would like, my wonderful students go on their phones and provide the answer. They are as gentle as the interviewee whose comments started this article.
As a child, I would memorize long poems every week so I could recite them in our church’s worship service on Sunday. It is a practice started by my mother when I was young. Somewhere in the stress of teaching and completing all the administrative work of the past few years, I stopped memorizing. Among my resolutions for the year 2022 is to start again. By relying on that universal brain known as our computer, are we losing our ability to memorize and retain? Perhaps we should all consider what we should forget and what we should remember in 2022. When is it healthy, practical, and good to forget, as Paul advises us? What should we work to retain, in both our personal and professional lives?
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