Thursday 14 October 2010

Two Roads to Remembrance

There are (at least) two ways to enter peronally into a community’s corporate memory, sot hat it can renew itself in you:
  • Contemplative remembrance is clean and simple, driven by the mind, when the eyes focus on something in an unhurried way, in isolation from the ordinary business of life. Icons are windows into heaven, to be gazed through as well as on. To switch on to the icon, you switch out of the distractions.

  • Resonant remembrance is messy. You put yourself through a routine with your wits around you, but floating on the surface, so that a stray thought or impression can resonate against something in you, and bring you up against something you thought you had forgotten all about, but can now be understood in a new light.

So, today, I visited an extraordinary place of Contemplative remembrance, Yad Vashem’s extraordinary museum — a place to spend weeks, not days. It stores in the most moving ways the remembrance of the Holocaust and its victims, giving names to the nameless, and guiding you through the story with a small number of token objects, which you have to focus on in an unhurried way to get the best out of the experience.

Compare and contrast the discipline of doing the Via Dolorosa. There is no reflective space, but only the bustling life of a middle eastern street, distracyions all round, tourists snapping away, horns blaring, people selling their wares. It could not be less conducive to contemplation. Yet if you throw yourself into the flow with your wits around you, what connects you to Jesus’ sufferings is not the place (wehich has largely changed), but the whole ambience. Do we suppose, for one moment, that the first Good Friday was different from any other business day in Jerusalem? The bustling crowds, the children running, the animals, the smell, the noise. Nobody cleared those out the way, then or now.

Here’s a process of Messy resonance, told me by a good and much respected friend yesterday. She found herself at a small on-street station on the Via, hemmed in on every side, with blaring commerce and life going by, noise, smell and bustle. And she thought of Jesus falling for the second time. And what floated to the surface was a memory of the pain of childbirth and hearing a dustcart in the street outside, and wondering how they could carry on regardless, as though nothing significant was happening. And perhaps such a thought entered Jesus’ mind — Is it nothing to you who pass by?

Actually no — and that unwitting rejection in itself becaomes an emotional footprint connecting us to Jesus even more surely than if the street looked the same. Indeed if it did look the same that could make this kind of remembrance harder, because it would be too easy to rubberneck it, or sentimntalise it, or turn it into a movie in the mind. The shaft of pure recognition is too piercing and poingnant for any of those things. And that, roughly is how this kind of pilgrimge works — not high class rubbernecking, but allowing oneself to be carried along in a stream of experience that allows for sympathetic resonance. You come back with a new view, not of the buildings, but yourself.

That’s the difference between being a Pilgrim and a Tourist. And it’s been a true privilege to travel for ten days with such an engaging, open, thoughtful company of fellow pilgrims.

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