(D.J. Waldie, in Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles)
I once had a conversation with one of my children about the importance of history. It amounted to a back and forth of "History is important" countered by "No, it's dumb." I said "You remember how you walked up the steps to your room? Now, what if you couldn't remember?" (Visualize rolling of eyes.) See, history is important, right?" And then there was that conversation closer, "Oh, that's different."
That is different, only it's different because that's our own micro-history and what we were really discussing was macro-history, history writ large, like WWII, the fall of the Iron Curtain, or even medieval times. About this, as it is well known, we have a cultural amnesia, living as we are in a time in which the disease of present-ism is epidemic.
Others may speak eloquently to that, but what I was taken with was Waldie's initial comment that "remembering is sabotage against the regime of speed." Our time is characterized by the idolatry of speed, whether it's faster hard drives, instant communication, or a flattening of the time from here to there. Pretty soon we can suspend disbelief and pretend there is no there, that everything is here, as it virtually is. Right now, if I wanted to, I could see a place in and speak with a person from every time zone on the planet. I don't want to. There is something deeply unsettling about such a flattening of time and place and ignoring of the natural rhythms of day and night. My contrarian bent rears its head.
For Christians, the regime of speed and homogenizing of time and place is deeply unbliblical. Remembering - something we are repeatedly exhorted to do in Scripture - forces us to stop movement of mind and body, to, as God commands via the Psalmist, "be still and know that I am God," to take note of our place in our Creator's economy. Whether it is the constant exhortation of the Israelites to remember the Exodus, God's deliverance of his chosen people, or the Apostle Paul's exhortation to remember the death and resurrection of Christ, remembering is a rebel act of sabotage by which we are delivered by God from a regime of speed to a place of light where time nearly ceases in the presence of truth. I think of those very long minutes that ticked by in 4th grade as my friends and I waited for the big hand on the clock to hit 3:30 and the bell to ring. Like that, remembering is also waiting --- waiting for God, for revelation, for the jig-saw puzzle of the past to shed a bit of light on the present, for God to show up in the higgledy-piggledy details of a life already lived.
In his own inimical way, Waldie does not always draw out the meaning of a phrase, good prose-poet that he is. He says remembering "is an act of faith too." That bears thinking about, and our thoughts may carry us (as with poetic language) on paths not necessarily intended by the poet. But what I think this means is that when we remember rightly we mark our belief in a providential ordering of past events, both the big stories and our own little thread of personal history. For if we don't believe that history is in any sense ordered, that all is random, that there is nothing predictable but unpredictability, then history is valueless. The way home may not be the same way home as it was yesterday. The ground may have shifted. Power that corrupted 100 years ago may do so no longer. People who can't seem to be good will all of a sudden act justly, kindly, and wisely all the time, or vice versa. Even the atheist can't live with a nihilism that renders history meaningless.
Note I didn't say that history never appears random or seems meaningless. It does. Whether it's tsunamis or tornadoes or the less than equal distribution of resources to nations, or why we can never seem to get a leg up, lost our job, or suffer unrequited love, the question of why stretches far across the landscape of history, both communally and personally.
"An act of faith?" I think he means not faith in history nor God forbid faith in man. It's not the why of history but the Who behind it all that matters. Why addresses secondary causes; Who, the primary. When we know the Who, we can trust that all the seemingly meaningless threads of our lives will come together, in the end, in the One who holds together all things, and who on that day sets aside even time. May He speed that day.
Until then, we wait, and remember, watch the clock, and somewhere in our past see what is timeless and beyond the regime of speed.
[The image is of a mult-media work by Asheville, NC Carol Bomer entitled "All Flesh Is Grass." Carol describes it this way: This is an assemblage which includes a clock that turns the hand in front of a light box. The light box shines through a pair of X-ray hands (a poignant night light) that reach upward like the grass motif repeated twice at the top of the piece. The photo is my husband and friends when he was six. It has a removable frame which exposes text that reads, "...for all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass; the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord abides forever." I liked it for the clock, in its reference to time, in the time-lessness it exudes. For more information on Carol's art, visit Soli Deo Gloria Studio.]