On occasion, I participate in yoga classes taught by my wife. I’m surprisingly good at certain parts of the practice, like shavasana and child’s pose. There are poses I refuse to do in front of parishioners, like happy baby. And there are parts that make me think one should never receive yoga instruction from a spouse. Take plank for instance, which is basically holding an army push up halfway down for about 3 or 4 days. Or chair pose, which is something my Junior High gym coach made us do when we misbehaved.
And don’t get me started on this particular instructor’s ability to count: “Hold that pose for 10, 9, 8, 7, you all look great, 9, 8, 7, 6, breathe deep, 8, 7, 6, 5, now smile, 7, 6, 5, 4…”
All of this is preceded by a time in which the instructor prepares us for practice with mindful meditation, helping us make transition from busy lives outside the studio. My wife is particularly gifted at these reflections. Of late, she has incorporated a passage attributed to Thich Nhat Hanh (see below) to begin the session. It has caught my attention as it includes this particular intention: to be awakened from the trance of forgetfulness.
I don’t think that this wise Vietnamese monk is talking about forgetting names, forgetting where I left my keys, forgetting my password (though I often find myself in that kind of trance). The power of that phrase comes in recognizing that the spiritual journey is about remembering, and in recognizing that a lot of the time I am spiritually asleep.
This awakening, this act of remembering is a spiritual intention, at the heart of the Christian tradition. The story of the children of Israel is told again and again to the children of Israel, to keep them on track by reminding them to look in the spiritual rear-view mirror. “Remember, your father was a wandering Aramean.” When wandering in the wilderness, the children of Israel would complain to God, as if asking “What have you done for me lately?” To counter that complaint, they were called to recollect divine provision, redemption, forgiveness and liberation. Scripture calls people of faith to do the same these days, to awaken from the trance of forgetfulness.
The psalmist knows that a strong relationship with God comes with awakening from forgetfulness. In exile, the psalmist speaks of holding on to the memory of Jerusalem. See the portion of Psalm 137 below. Or read the first 8 verses of Psalm 78. It includes this intention: We will recount to generations to come the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, and the wonderful works he has done…that the generations to come might know, and the children yet unborn, that they in turn might tell it to their children, so that they might put their trust in God, and not forget the deeds of God. (vss. 4,6,7)
In the New Testament, Jesus gathered disciples at the Last Supper, instituting the eucharist with the command: Do this in remembrance of me. In our liturgy, a portion of the prayer used on Sunday at communion recalls the great and gracious things God has done in the past. That portion of the prayer is referred to as anamnesis. That literally means not forgetting (not amnesia).
Have you ever felt yourself caught in a trance of forgetfulness, spiritually speaking? Maybe you’re there this morning. The call to thanksgiving is meant to awaken us. We give thanks to God not to stroke the ego of a narcissistic divine being. Rather, we reflect on ways we have come to experience grace in the past so we can embrace those experiences in the present, and trust they will unfold in the future. When we can remember that amazing grace, we can awaken from the trance of forgetfulness.
Carry that phrase with you this Monday. Awaken from any trance you might be in. Forget forgetfulness. Remember that grace abounds.
People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.
Mind, space and body in perfect oneness.
I send my heart along with the sound of my breath.
May my breath awaken me from the trance of my forgetfulness.
So that I can transcend the path of sorrow and suffering.
Thich Nhat Hahn
Perhaps nothing helps us make the movement from our little selves to a larger world than remembering God in gratitude. Such a perspective puts God in view in all of life, not just in the moments we set aside for worship or spiritual disciplines. Not just in the moments when life seems easy.
If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.