The Work Of Re-Membering In An Age Of Forgetfulness


There are many stories that I can recall and will tell over the months ahead, as I have been doing, tales from my childhood of some meaning, stories told to me by my grandmother, stories that you might like to hear, but there are some stories I cannot tell.

Will you remember me
like the circled stones,
like the secret hills,
where you walk alone,
where the wind can speak ,
my other names,
like the air you breathe.
Will you remember me?

Roseanne Cash (Singer, and eldest daughter of the late, great, country musician Johnny Cash)

It’s not that I want to keep them to myself, but those are the stories where I only have a partial recollection. If I told them it would be like telling a joke to a friend but forgetting the punchline. Then, the reason for telling that joke, or for me telling that story to you will fail miserably because of insufficient data.

‘Apathy takes root when I refuse to remember that which I can ill-afford to forget.’ Craig D Lounsbrough

My memory, then, for those stories is faulty. I can only think of bits and pieces. Fragmentary. I cannot remember them in total.

The opposite to remember or re-member isn’t to forget, it is to ‘dis-member’. Those fragmentary pieces of story-data mean the story is dis-membered, and it’s in pieces, and cannot fulfil what it was originally designed to do.

Yes, the opposite to re-member is dis-member.

To dwell initially on the word ‘dismember’ is an interesting place to start. We all have an inkling of a dismembered relationship: the relationship that, in many ways, is in tatters between humankind and nature, between nation states, within nation states, between family and friends, and even within our own psyche. It is, some would say, sadly, ‘the human condition’. This is not to be overly negative, but it is what it is to be human (and being human is good), and it isn’t always the over-riding way things are.

‘I remember you-ooh
You’re the one who made my dreams come true,
A few kisses ago.

Frank Ifield (released in 1963, and I can remember it!)

If we forget our stewardship to nature, nature will be torn apart (or dismembered). If we forget our duty to one another we will disrespect others (and see them as ‘less’ than us). And, if we forget who we are, we will have a low opinion of ourselves and trouble may ensue as regards what we think, say about, and do to ourselves. Doesn’t much of advertising dwell on this today – you’re better if you buy our product, ‘this is the best a man can get’ etc. All examples of dis-membering.

But, the opposite to dis-member is to re-member.

To re-member, is to ‘repair’ that which is torn apart, broken, or dismembered. It is a putting back together again, to make whole. Remembering needs to take place, and taken to heart.

About two weeks ago I was in a wooded area of Plymouth attending a wonderful Samhain ritual. It was a time of remembering. In an age where many have forgotten about those that have ‘gone ahead’, our ancestors; when many have forgotten about the bounty of nature and the changing seasons; and when many have forgotten about That Which Is Bigger Than Us, a group of passionate and caring people, held a ceremony to re-member! Effectively they stood in a fragmented society, and in liminal space, a ‘thin place’, lived up to their calling of the work of re-membering that which was dis-membered.

‘The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living’. Marcus Tullius Cicero

Today (11 November 2018) is Rembrance Day in the UK and in Commonwealth nations, when many remember the time of the end of the Great War and all those that gave their lives in that, and subsequent conflicts. Some know it as Armistice Day. This article isn’t about those who sacrificed their lives in the defence of freedom, laudable though it is, and it is interesting to note that at his speech today the French President warned of the rise in nationalism and its dire consequences if we don’t remember, as a self-declared nationalist, who had forgotten the horrors of nationalism sat within earshot. If we don’t re-member the past, we will dis-member the present.

‘Man is a messenger who forgot the message’. Abraham Joshua Heschel

Today, we re-membered.

This evening, I was at a small church, that had a deeply-moving communion service. At one point Scripture was recited. It was that part I especially like – the anamnesis, a kind of -reliving the moment as if transported ‘there’ – when the words, ‘Remember this…’ were spoken. Though we are many, we are essentially one, though seemingly dis-membered, in that act of receiving bread and wine together, and taking it to heart, in a deeply spiritual and effective way, we were re-membered. Re-joined. Made whole.

A couple of years back I had a ‘stall’ at the London area Festival Of Mind, Body and Spirit, and so too the year before, when I had met Samantha who was visiting and was/is a very spiritual author, and a good one at that. I saw her last year and as she came up to the ‘stall’, I greeted her by name. ‘Hello, Samantha, it’s really is good to see you again’, I said. ‘Ah, you remembered me!’, she said and smiled.

Re-membering is required, and when we do remember people great things happen. Friendships start. Parts of a relationship are put back together. The member parts become one!

If we forget about nature, we dismember it, and one of the consequences of that is global warming. If we re-member nature, good things can and do take place. If we forget about people we effectively dis-member them or any relationship we had. But, if we re-member people then the potential is there for a thriving relationship. If we forget about ourselves and who we really are, then we dis-member ourselves and don’t function as we should. But if we re-member who we are – remember our Source-given status and calling – then we function as we should.

‘For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost’. Frederick Buechner

One of the reasons I am a self-declared Christo-Druid or is it a Druidic-Christian is that both ‘camps’ remember, or, when they take it to heart, they re-member’.

In any religion or belief system it is easy to operate at the surface-level, and doesn’t the world like that? It might be Winter Solstice or Christmas Day, but if I only go for the ‘externals’ then I miss the true meaning of it. Much better to go for the externals (so I’m not against giving gifts) and take to heart the deep and real meaning, or re-member it. Not just remember it, but re-member it: put the whole thing together as one and not just consider the parts of the festival I might like.

And, it is for that reason that I like it when people join small groups, groves, thriving churches and other groups, and are passionate about what they believe, because in a fragmented society they will  have a positive effect, because they are doing the valuable work of re-membering. That’s their calling, its our calling, isn’t it?

‘Remember your connection with the cosmos. Remember your connection with the infinity and that remembrance will give you the freedom.’  Amit Ray,

5 thoughts on “The Work Of Re-Membering In An Age Of Forgetfulness

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful writing. You are the only other person I’ve encountered who relates re-member with dis-member in this spiritual context.

    I speak often in my pastoral/spiritual care about the relationship between re-member and dis-member. For me, this is the true liturgical interpretation of what Jesus means when he says “Re-member Me.”

    At every altar of Holy Communion (a most liminal place and time), we “re-member” the body of Christ, broken to be given away. Each time the church, “the body of Christ,” comes together to partake of the one loaf, we re-member Christ, taking the dis-membered parts of the body of Christ who scatter after each Sunday’s worship, and “re-member” them into the whole body of Christ, re-membering the “body to of the church” to “the head of the church,” Jesus Christ.

    The relationship between the words re-member and dis-member are acute for me in a much more literal sense. I worked for 26 years in healthcare prior to entrance into ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church. Early in my career, I was an autopsy assistant for a seven year period. Dis-membering was literal. The last 14 years I worked in organ and tissue donation, on the donor side. I spent hours in surgery involved in the dissection (dis-membering) of donated organs and tissues from dozens and dozens of donors. Dis-membering was literal.

    The journey into ordained ministry, through seminary first, and later through training as a spiritual director and now through years of experience as a pastor, transformed my understanding of “dis-membered” from something anatomical and literal to something spiritually theological and metaphorical.

    In Luke 22:19, Jesus breaks the bread, gives it to them and says “This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.”

    The word translated from Greek into English as “remembrance” is ἀνάμνησις which is transliterated into anamnesis. Anamnesis is the opposite of amnesis (amnesia), which is the Greek word for “forgetting or forgetfulness.”

    I’m no Greek scholar, but I studied Latin and Greek roots in college biology. With the prefix “an” which is a negative, as in “not,” an-amnesis is more literally “not forgetting” which we translate as re-member, to call back to mind what was not there in the immediacy.

    I think Jesus calls us to re-member in the way of “not forgetting,” or even more of re-membering as in “never forgetting,” in the way that barring trauma or disease, we may forget the names of others, but we seem never forget our own names. There is nothing to be re-membered, because it was never forgotten in the first place.

    I think this brings us to the ultimate liminal place, contemplative, mystical union with God Who Is Love. The praying unceasingly of the Jesus Prayer lived out in the Benedictines and the Easter Orthodox priests and monks is a practical way of “never forgetting,” because one is constantly “practicing the presence of God,” as taught us by Brother Lawrence.

    May God continue to bless you with discerning insight and creative writing. In the traditional greeting of the Benedictines, “Thank God you are finally here, I’ve been waiting for you!”

    My worldly citizenship is American, but my spiritual is Celtic and Benedictine. Good to meet you, brother/friend.



    Be at peace,

    Rev. Mark Whitley
    Meadowcreek United Methodist Church
    Collinsville, Oklahoma, USA

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading the article, Mark, and for your comments. You, too, are the only other person I know that sees the depth of re-membering, and as the opposite of dis-membering.

      And the central part of that is Jesus’ words now celebrated at Communion, as you say, and are ones that I take to heart. Thank you for sharing part of your journey, too.

      May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, and may the Lord hold you in the palm of his hand.

      Many blessings, Tadhg.


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