The Spirit and Memory

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.

“Mistress, you seem happy to know the truth about this thing you call the mist.”
“Happy indeed, father, for now there’s a way forward for us.”
“Take care, for it’s a secret guarded jealously by some, though it’s maybe for the best it remains so no longer.”
“It’s not for me to care if it’s a secret or not, father, but I’m glad Axl and I know it and can now act on it.”
“Yet are you so certain, good mistress, you wish to be free of this mist? Is it not better some things remain hidden from our minds?”
“It may be so for some, father, but not for us. Axl and I wish to have again the happy moments we shared together. To be robbed of them is as if a thief came in the night and took what’s most precious from us.”
“Yet the mist covers all memories, the bad as well as the good. Isn’t that so, mistress?’
“We’ll have the bad ones come back too, even if they make us weep or shake with anger. For isn’t it the life we’ve shared?”
“You’ve no fear, then, of bad memories, mistress?”
“What’s to fear, father? What Axl and I feel today in our hearts for each other tells us the path taken here can hold no danger for us, no matter that the mist hides it now. It’s like a tale with a happy end, when even a child knows not to fear the twists and turns before. Axl and I would remember our life together, whatever its shape, for it’s been a thing dear to us” (157).

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.

When he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.
He will glorify me,
because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you (Jn 16: 13-15)


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. 

See! I will bring spirit into you, that you may come to life.
I will put sinews upon you, make flesh grow over you,
cover you with skin, and put spirit in you
so that you may come to life and know that I am the Lord (37: 5-6).


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.

We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
For in hope we were saved.
Now hope that sees is not hope.
For who hopes for what one sees?
But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance (Rom 8: 22-25).


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

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


The latest from america

The study found Latina immigrant women in Arizona who were pregnant during the contentious S.B. 1070 passage had babies with lower birthweight compared with those in prior years. Average birth weights did not decrease among U.S.-born white, black or Latina women during the same time.
J.D. Long-GarcíaJanuary 18, 2019
This week's guest is Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of New Wave Feminists, a pro-life feminist organization dedicated to changing the divisive language surrounding the abortion debate.
Olga SeguraJanuary 18, 2019
Psychedelics can blur the line between science and spirituality—but Christian mysticism cannot be studied.
Terrance KleinJanuary 17, 2019