We are what we remember, granted that memory is deep and wide, and that sometimes who we are, even who we’ve been, may yet surprise us. Yet that which is completely forgotten, if such be possible, would be as though it had never occurred.
To be human is ever to reclaim one’s past. To live oriented toward the future, as we do, is always to ask new questions, and therefore to discover new meanings, of our past. The past forms the future, yet it is the future that redeems the past. Memory gives the future its ever growing meaning.
Good fiction can echo the Gospel, teaching its truth in story, because, although there are countless tales, there is only one truth. The Buried Giant (2015), Kazuo Ishiguro’s newest novel, set in Britain, after the death of King Arthur, raises a provocative question. What if God himself forgets “much from our pasts, events far distant, events of the same day? And if a thing is not in God’s mind, then what chance of it remaining in those of mortal men?” (64).
In Ishiguro’s novel, the characters must strive to recover their past. The buried giant is memory itself. A mist of forgetfulness has fallen upon the land. People struggle to remember. Without memory, they do not know how narrow the present has become.
When this is revealed, a monk, Father Jonas, asks, of the heroine Beatriz, a question about memory that each of us should ponder.
In the Scriptures, the Spirit is revealed as the Lord of memory, the one who gives the past its meaning. The Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples, who are gathered together, pondering the life, death and resurrection of the Christ. They already remember what has happened, yet drawn together, praying over the past, the very Spirit of God descends upon them, fulfilling the promise of Jesus.
In the light of this Pentecost fire, the past becomes comprehensible, meaningful, and when the past is made purposeful, it bestows both present meaning and future mission.
The Holy Spirit fulfills the promise of Ezekiel. He makes the past to live.
Beatriz says, “It’s like a tale with a happy end, when even a child knows not to fear the twists and turns before.” Do we have the same confidence? That’s the question posed by Pentecost.
We are what we remember, which is why so many of us strive to forget. Sin has marred memory, and we think the only way to be free of the past is to forget. But today the Holy Spirit is revealed as the one who claims the past, makes it his own, remakes it in the power of Christ’s resurrection. “Rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me” (Jn 37-38). The Holy Spirit comes, not as impersonal force but, as person, like a new love who rewrites the world, or an old love, who has authored one’s very life.
In giving ourselves over to the Spirit of God, we give ourselves to hope, to the only future worthy of our own humanity.
Ezekiel 37: 1-14 Romans 8: 22-27 John 7: 37-39
Acts 2: 1-11 Galatians 5: 16-25 John 15 : 26-27, 16: 12-15