But take care of what you do and be on your guard. Do not forget the things your eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your heart all the days of your life; rather tell them to your children and to your children’s children.
Deut. 4: 9
The poet William Wordsworth wrote that “our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.” Long before advancing age begins to have its effects on our short-term memories, we all experience how much the distractions, burdens, and responsibilities of our daily lives, as well as the anxieties and fears of our unconscious impulses, affect our “longer term” memories. This is most profoundly true of those deepest memories of who we really are and of what is most important to us.
In today’s reading from Deuteronomy, Moses once again calls the people of Israel to remember their covenant with the Lord. This covenant, however, is not a mere contract by which God is to reward his people for their observance of arbitrary dictates. It is rather God’s gift of wisdom to God’s people. The “Law” offers the contours of life lived in accordance with the “Way” that things truly are, with the Wisdom that is the cause and the heart of creation. “Keep them, observe them, and they will demonstrate to the people your wisdom and understanding.” (Deut. 4: 6)
At graced moments in our lives we all have experience of and insight into God’s Wisdom. There are moments throughout our lives where we touch love, as it is given to us and as we offer it to others. There are times when we know, in our most solitary moments, that we are not alone. There are flashes when our hearts nearly burst with joy at the awareness of the giftedness of being alive. And there are instances when we know in the depth of our lack and sorrow, our communion with all of suffering humanity. At such times we are given, beyond doubt, an experience of the “law” that governs the universe. Yet, despite these experiences that afford us this undeniable personal knowledge of the law and the way, we live most of our lives in forgetfulness of them.
This is why we make commitments in life. As human beings, much as we would love to live in spontaneous awareness, we forget what it is that motivates our most important choices. As real as the love is of that person to whom we commit ourselves in marriage, we do not live most of our lives in the felt experience of the love that first drew us to her or him. And so we necessarily publicly promise and commit ourselves to stand by her or him for life: “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” Transformative as is the experience of knowing oneself as loved and grasped by God that is the foundation of a call to religious life, we publicly vow ourselves to this love “by law” because we recognize that through the vicissitudes and struggles of everyday life, we are certain to forget the experience of this love and its abiding truth.
To remember well what is so vital to remember requires of us the practice of repetition. “Tell them to your children and to your children’s children.” It is our very nature to forget what is most important and true in the fog of everyday anxieties and demands. We must, throughout our days, find ways to call ourselves back to the memory of that which is truly important, not as an act of moral rectitude but as living memory of the truth of who we really are. Remembering in this way is the “contemplative stance”.
The first stream of God’s grace which God makes flow forth in this coming is a pure simplicity which sheds its light upon the spirit to the exclusion of all distinctions. This stream takes its origin from the spring in the unity of the spirit and flows down from there, penetrating all the powers of the soul—the higher as well as the lower—and raising them above all restless multiplicity. It creates a state of simplicity in a person and both shows and bestows upon him an interior bond in the unity of his spirit In this way a person is raised up in her memory and delivered from distracting impressions and from fickleness.
In this light Christ now calls a person to go out in accordance with the light and with this coming. The person therefore goes out and finds that by means of this simple light which has been infused into her she has been firmly set in order and established in peace, penetrated by the light and confirmed in the unity of her spirit or mind. In this way he is raised up to and established in a new state of being. He turns inward and fixes his memory on total bareness, above the impressions of all sensible images and above multiplicity. He here possesses in an essential and supernatural way the unity of his spirit as his own dwelling place and as his eternal and personal inheritance. She constantly experiences a natural and supernatural inclination toward this same unity. By means of God’s grace and purity of intention, this unity itself experiences an eternal, loving inclination toward its own higher Unity, where the Father and the Son are united with all the saints in the bond of the Holy Spirit. A person hereby fulfills the requirements of the first stream, which calls her to unity.
Jan van Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals, II, ii, B