On remembering

— Midweek Meditations:
thoughts, inspiration and encouragement
from ACF community members —

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal.

Philippians 3:13-14

Especially in Germany, November is a month of remembrance. November 9 was the date of the abolition of the monarchy in 1918, the Nazi pogroms in 1938, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (among other political anniversaries). In Freiburg alone, there are several commemorative gatherings these days, e.g., Gedenken zum 9. November, under the motto “erinnern, gedenken, handeln”.

Reasons are self-evident why there is, and should be, no end in remembering. As regards Pogromnacht, we have a moral duty to remember the dehumanized, the deported, the damaged, and the dead. The suffering of and injustices to those thousands of victims of anti-Semitism will not be forgotten if we keep their memory alive. Remembrance also helps us to understand who we are and why we are as we are. Indeed, we cannot truly understand our society and ourselves today without recalling (on 9 November and otherwise) the events that have shaped us. The past is not in this sense past. Finally, we all are familiar with Santayana’s saying: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”; we must resolve this Wednesday and at further opportunities to prevent such crimes from ever happening again.

Can there ever be, however, too much remembering? Reasons may not be self-evident but upon close consideration, they prove as challenging as they are counterintuitive. The possibility that remembering might actually do harm becomes conceivable. In some circumstances, we might even be advised to remember less and forget more.

  • First, the memory of wars, massacres, and oppression can be such a psychological burden in particular communities that it is paralysing. (One thinks, for example, of the Ireland depicted by Joyce in which ‘history is a nightmare from which we cannot awake’.) In individuals, we recognize that mourning for loss and more generally, thinking about the past can be excessive and that they must eventually end for life to go on.
  • Furthermore, if remembering means not forgiving others but bearing grudges for past injuries, it will hinder us from moving forward through time. Resentment, rancour, and a desire for revenge make it impossible to progress to the goal of being right with God, as Paul states in Philippians. In our relations with others, it can prevent reconciliation and peace.
  • Perhaps worst of all, memorializing a particular past publicly might well produce, in groups as in individuals, defensiveness, denial, and defiance. What if the effort to propagate a shared memory, rather than bringing understanding and unity, deepens the division and conflict in our communities?

Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not arguing here for total amnesia. Pogromnacht weighs on us heavily in Germany; along with other events, it is rightly experienced as a national transgenerational trauma. Instead, I’m arguing that we, collectively and individually, must consider carefully what we remember of the past and then how we remember it.

The ACF Midweek Meditations
are written by a diverse group of our church members with the intention to seek God’s fingerprints in our lives. They range from somber to humorous and are inspired by all facets of live and faith. Written by ordinary people from all walks of life, they reflect a wide range of Christian backgrounds and spiritualities.

Each week’s text portrays the individual viewpoint of its author. They might not always resonate with everyone, and are not meant to be understood as representing the Anglican Church Freiburg as a whole. Yet, as a church that is aiming to ‘Build a Community of Grace’ we seek to practice learning from and listening to one another.

We pray that these humble ponderings add a small spark of blessing to your week.

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