The oddest things can stir up memories, as did this photo my friend Jean-Claude sent me last week. Back in what small children call ‘the olden days’ I taught in the Tiwi Islands, once a semi-remote mission, now a tourist destination. The church was, and still is, a wooden structure with internal shutters that kept out the weather – and the light. My prayers in that church were often distracted by the desire to consign those noisy, dark, hand hewn timber shutters to the mission kitchen fire and replace them with Territory style glass louvres.
I don’t think about my Bathurst Island days very often. It’s inevitable that as we age our stockpile of memories gets bigger and it takes something like the turn of a stranger’s head or a long forgotten smell, or, as in this instance, a photo, to surface a long gone time and place.
I recalled the narrow strait between the two islands where crocodiles were seen to lurk. I heard screaming kids as a sneaky snake crawled up the back of my folding chair while I was deep in the twice weekly John Wayne movie. I remembered trying to teach nearly a hundred small children who had limited English and even less experience of discipline. We did a lot of singing! And on a deeper level I still appreciate a birthday when the Sisters in my little community packed me a lunch and sent me out into the bush for a blissful day by myself. As the Frank Sinatra song says, “These foolish things remind me . . . “of my younger self.
There’s nothing tidy about memories. Mine look like the tangle of weed, leaves and fallen branches that slope towards the creek that borders our dirt road. However hard I might try, I can never actually corral all my remembering into a tidily organized timeline. It’s a jumble of nostalgia for the good times, occasional lingering resentment towards people long gone from my life, painful times that invite me back for another look, occasions that still make me squirm and a mountain of stuff I never expected to recall again.
Recalling past events gives us a chance to capture their power or maybe to contribute to healing and understanding past hurts. Paula D’Arcy, a USA writer and retreat leader says, “God comes to you disguised as your life.” Such a simple, obvious and profound statement. It reminds me of that verse in Revelations: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”. There Jesus stands, waiting to be invited into the private literature of our life – not just the now, but the joy, the mess, and the seemingly uneventfuls that make up our personal memories.
Michael Leunig says, “. . . Let it out. Let it all unravel. Let it free and it can be a path on which to travel.” So as your recollections stir up all kinds of feelings, share them with God. Be honest. God can take it! Then give God some space to reply. However and whenever that comes – as another memory, or an unexpected feeling or maybe words of scripture or a song, you will recognise it.
These foolish things remind me of you, God.