~Protecting Our Memory~
A deeply held fear people across the world share is the fear of losing their memory. We lament the loss of recognition in family or friend whose mind experiences the wasting of dementia. We grieve amnesia in people we know and we fear our own forgetfulness.
Why is it then, that we are less inclined to worry over the loss of collective memory, what can be called tradition? Granted some traditions need to be let loose, especially those that seek to de-humanize and degrade and those that are just downright banal. However, communities of every kind need memory, collective memory.
John O’Donahue wrote, “Tradition is to the community what memory is to the individual.”(Eternal Echoes) From the time I started seminary until the present day (some 30 plus years) “traditional church” has been viewed as anathema, a dinosaur whose only worth was the reserves of endowment to “do a new thing”. I bought into it to some degree, but tradition is how a community makes meaning and marks important events in time. That community could be a family, a school, a union, a service club or a church.
“In a culture addicted to the instant,” O’Donahue asserts, “there is a great amnesia.” When people lose a sense of themselves, they forget how to do ordinary things like turn off the stove, eat a meal, take medication. When a community loses a sense of itself, it forgets how to stay alive and relevant.
Church tradition shapes us individually and collectively through the practices of communal worship, group learning and prayer, group planning and implementation of mission. Church tradition employs practices that root us in our faith story. Our faith story gives us collective meaning and purpose. Sure, it may be packaged differently in different congregations but the traditional church has been making meaning and ministry for over 2000 years. That’s a pretty good track record.
What are the traditions we practice that protect our memory as a community of faith, that help us know who we are and help us live from that identity? It would not surprise me if many of you reading this, first answered, “Communion.” The practice of communion is a tradition that has survived since the time of the early church. It requires community to practice, “where at least 2 or three are gathered”. The body of Christ is re-membered during Communion; by its very nature it calls us into community.
Next time you hear someone (even if it’s yourself) wondering about the efficacy of tradition in church, pause, smile and be grateful that amnesia isn’t settling in anytime soon and the church, shaped by its tradition, will continue to thrive and serve the purposes of God.