Thursday April 18, 2013 11:00 a.m.

Purification of Memory

Many of us grew up with a dawning awareness of mass genocide and our collusion in that and then the periodic outburst of genocides around the world. This is our history. Group after group steps forward claiming their rights. We have lived in a history that constantly repeats itself around this theme of remember what was done.

Fitzgerald writes:

Our memories have made us who we are, spiritually and humanly. No-memory
makes authentic human relationship virtually impossible and robs us of our identity.
I cannot forget the pain of the husband of an Alzheimer’s patient, who in
despair said of his wife, “she has only the present. To have only the present – that
is hell.”

This is the truth as most of us experience it at this time. Most people say “Bring on cancer any time before alzheimers”. The stripping of memory seems like the scariest most de-humanizing route we can go.

In classic scholastic theology memory is one of the foundational properties of the soul. It gives us the capacity to function as human beings.

Fitzgerald says,

The diffi culty is that memories can lead us to either healing and empathy or
hostility and destruction. On the one hand, the human community is saturated
with the injunction to remember: not only its triumphs of courage, but especially
the unspeakable horrors of the holocaust, genocide, slavery, rape, ethnic cleansing,
torture, and abuse precisely so that they never occur again. On the other hand,
“the human race as individuals and tribes, at this very moment, is in huge measure
bound to the past, to memory, in debilitating and destructive ways.” 14 Remembering
wrongs suffered seems indispensable to healing, we are told, and is often a means
of constructing and consolidating a community that tells the same narrative of
anguish; and the memory of past injustices can certainly engender empathy, solidarity
and justice for others who are oppressed. However, some victims of such
evil, precisely because they remember their own victimization in the past, personally
or as members of a persecuted, marginalized group, can feel justifi ed in perpetrating
violence, hatred, oppression and even ethnic cleansing in the present.
“So easily does the protective shield morph into a sword of violence” that can last
for generations, as Volf reminds us.

This is the quandry our generation has inherited and passed on with very little progress.

Conscious of the horrendous evil inflicted upon him and the Jewish people,
Elie Wiesel, that eloquent survivor of the holocaust, is well aware of the ambiguity
of remembering. As deeply as anyone, he knows the pain of memory and the
desperate “need of many victims to wipe from their memories all traces of days
that are blacker than nights,” 16 just as he realizes how clinging to the dead can
diminish our capacity to live and to love in the present and for the future. He
refl ects on the effect of the negative use of memory throughout history – as illustrated
in Bosnia: “that tormented land,” where, he writes, “it is memory that is a
problem. It’s because they remember what happened to their parents or their sister
or their grandparents that they hate each other.” 17 While acknowledging the need
to redeem memories, still “this passionate prophet of memory” can only continue
crying out with glaring, powerful consistency one message: Remember ! 18 He can
go no further.


The litany of experiences which cultural critics and survivors, psychologists
and historians, theologians and novelists, do not want us to forget has given birth
to trauma theory, mimetic theory, non-violent theory, feminist theory and theology,
theologies of healing aimed at redeeming memory. 19 All of this (including
current neurological research on editing memory) has clouded the lens through
which I look at John of the Cross’ teaching. Suspended in an intellectual impasse,
I struggle to hold in tension both the power of memory and the importance of history
in giving us context, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the need to forget
and be open to the radical transformation of the self and the memory. I ask how we
can remember and forget at the same time. I wrestle with remembering anew so
that we can tell the narrative differently, and I wrestle with forgetting when forgetfulness
and silence are dangerous; for example, for women who are lower in the
social hierarchy, or for those who come out of a heritage of slavery whose potential
for being forgotten has been greater than for most. I strive to be faithful to and in
solidarity with those who continue to remember indescribable violation and at the
same time I am receptive to the transforming power of hope that deconstructs
memory and to the fathomless Mystery coming to us from the future. I suggest that
in this impasse psychology and the social sciences do not take us far enough. We
need the insights of theologians and mystics.

We have to do justice to the considerable wisdom that has emerged from at least a couple of generations of our best efforts to try to be responsible to remembering?

The question of how you deal with memory must have been on the mind of John of the Cross as he experienced intense traumatic victimization.

On the art of disappearing – Know that you could fall at any moment and decide which way you will fall.

Miroslav Volf – allow the past to metastasize into the future.

Our own era in the wake of the massive inhumanities in the first and second WW has stood accountable to this in ways other generations might have not.

Fitzgerald brings in two remarkable people and their works:

The End of Memory Miroslav Volf – not an easy read, not because it is difficult but because it is tedious. He leaves no stone unturned and he turns them over three times in order to make sure they are turned. He is pushing a boulder up a mountain that he could have gotten to instantly if he had known John of the Cross.

Volf is s Protestant theologian  therefore this is a striking and painstaking effort to move beyond the norms of what is the present politically correct thinking within reference points that are accepted within the established theological institutions. He is not going to subject cheerless Protestants to scary mysticism.

Volf gives us a lived experience. He was born in what was then Yugoslavia and his work grows out of his personal experience of having been put through emotional torture. He got conscripted into Yugoslav military in dying days of communism, while he was n America married to an American wife and studying religion both of which made him highly suspect to the Tito government who viewed him as a spy and an enemy of the state. He is very clear he never suffered physical violence or next level of emotional torture but was always threatened with imprisonment which would have meant radical disappearance behind Iron Current perhaps for good.

In the end he realized he was wounded. He was angry and traumatized leaving him with deep deep wounds and a seething sense of victimization and anger. On the other hand because he is a Christian evangelical, and therefore took the mission of Christ seriously, he knew he couldn’t rest in anger as the bottom line. He had to move on to forgiveness because this is what Christ calls us to and the evangelicals, thank God, still take that message seriously. That there is a teaching at the heart of the gospel that calls us to move beyond our brokenness into radical transformation. So he set out to try to learn how to get to forgiveness. He subjected himself to a long process by which he finally came to the capacity to forgive his tormentor.

He calls us to:

1. remember truthfully – if you don’t remember truthfully, you are not remembering at all. Do not allow yourself to be swayed by re-constructed, subjective memories. Memory from negativity is always obscured. All memory is always partial. Create an accurate memory.

2. remember therapeutically so as to heal – all memories are essentially edited. We can’t remember without a view point, without an intention. It makes a difference if our intention is just to hold it over somebody and consolidate our own identity as a victim gaining some of the goodies that are contained in the remembering. There are all sorts of ways that we remember so as not to heal.

We need to be willing to edit memories in such a direction as to make it possible to move in a new direction. How do we choose not to feature certain things and feature other things that will allow a healed memory to go on.

But then Volf raises the other question – could there be a time in which there was a total forgiveness because the memories do not come to mind. What we call forgiveness is often conditional or egoic which is basically – I will forgive you if you acknowledge what you have done and do not let it happen again. This is much of what happens in forgiveness workshops.

Is there something that will level the plying field so that there is no longer victim and perpetrator. He seeks to find this in a proleptic, a foretaste of heaven in which all sit at the banquet table and our provisional identities are subsumed into a greater joy which can let go of its hurts because it was made whole in the joy. He envisages a time in which the memories that caused the divisions will be forgiven in the very act of their no longer coming to mind.

He doesn’t seem to have registered that there is a whole Christian apophatic tradition that has been saying this since at least Julian of Norwich. But he does create a beautiful picture in which individual broken identities are gathered up into a greater wholeness and do by grace what we cannot do by works.

He is not promoting spiritual by-passing. We only get to the full forgiveness stage when we have done our remembering as thoroughly and conscientiously as possible.


Volf’s genius lies in his psychological, theological, cultural and spiritual analysis of the
deliberate steps involved in his own concrete embodiment of exactly what John of
the Cross calls the purifi cation and transformation of memory and Volf’s conviction
that he would ”squander his own soul” if he failed to follow the path toward
which Christ called him, if he did not surrender to the redeeming process in all its
pain and ambiguity.

My own experience is that there is no forgiveness until we have moved beyond perpetrator victim categorizations. Because there is no full forgiveness where there is any inequality of power. The letting go comes not out of weakness but out of strength. Why do I need to hold on to this?

The most effective way to work in this is when you are really able to change places imaginatively and, if you are the victim, to understand that you are the perpetrator too and the perpetrator is you. Forgiveness becomes possible in a whole new way by leveling the playing field and equalizing the power. You simply no longer need to be so invested in the role playing.

Hanging on to our identity is not always done for small reasons.

Gerald May – most of us would prefer a negative self-image to no self-image at all because it is through all the identity badges that we are able to draw strength and energy from the world. But when we learn to draw energy from a different realm, we no longer need to hold on to that old provisional locus of identity.

Every time you sit down in Centering Prayer and let go of one little thought and allow that release motion to imprint itself on you, releasing your consciousness from subject/objective configuration, what’s growing in you is the capacity to receive your identity directly from the vertical. The only reason you don’t do that consistently now is that the capacity is not consistently there. We experience it as coming from grace.

We have to develop the capacity to receive our identity directly from the vertical.

What we name as grace in dualistic theology is experientially true, we experience it as a sudden kick of energy, strength, capacity, prowess which we didn’t generate so we assume it comes from outside us by the HS dropping us a care package

What if grace is the natural state of that energetic field which is made inaccessible to us by our egoic operating? As we open and receive this from our natural state, grace seems more like a re-joining what is and living and moving out of that reality, receiving our identity from above.

“We have enough being to be nothing.” (Rafe)

The real wisdom transmissions are not done through words but as energetic transmissions. See deeper into the other person, realizing they have the readiness to move beyond where they are. This is the important function of a teacher. If you rip a scab off a wound prematurely all you get is blood. A teacher is one able to gauge clearly enough by tuning into a person’s being frequency and seeing where they are, to be able to provide the container, hold the space that allows the other one to jump from where they are to the next. You become  a wisdom leader rather than just a professor of knowledge only by contemplative practice.

Beverly Lanzetta ( – for many people forgetting is a tool of numbing. For so many women there has been no identity, simply a “socially constructed reality” which keeps you numb, empty and artificial. Lanzetta lays out a process where you have to deepen the pain so it can actually be felt and you can discover a you that was you before social convention was dumped upon it. Any work done before that awakening to the you that existed before social convention is going to be counter-productive. We have to claim our flesh and blood humanity.

It is not necessarily a first/second, but a both/and. Sometimes the beginning of Contemplative practice can create enough connection with a felt sense of a fuller and deeper reality that you can stand the pain of taking off the wraps and moving out of roles where you would never have the courage to do that on your own.

Fitzgerald –

With powerful intensityand considerable clarity, Beverly Lanzetta is, I believe,
describing this night of
memory in her work, Radical Wisdom, A Feminine Mystical Theology, on which
I have drawn here, when she discusses the via femina of contemporary woman
related to the contemplative prayer development of Teresa of Avila. Because this
radical emptying out 26 of woman’s constructed selfhood is so profoundly united
with the kenosis of Jesus, 27 this dispossession in the feminine memory effects a
solidarity that reaches far beyond the personal into the communal, into the souls
of all women; then deep into the human spirit. 28

That is such a powerful statement. This emptying out of a woman’s socially constructed identity operates in solidarity with the kenosis of Jesus, the radical letting go. When you have the woman who is stripped or engages in self-stripping of taking away the wraps, the roles, the functions, the other person’s images, it creates a painful nakedness that is in solidarity with Christ in the garden and on the cross.

There is a drawing strength from an archetype that is greater than just your own personal journey.


Although I have dwelt on traumatic memories at some length, it is equally
important to recall that John extends memory’s forfeitures particularly to spiritual
gifts and consolation, human achievements and natural endowments and to one’s
carefully achieved selfhood. The most critical remnant of one’s former experience/
knowledge of God as well as one’s perceived wholeness to which one had
been clinging without realizing it, is taken away. One successful, contemporary,
American woman’s poignant description of her experience of purification of memory witnesses to this.

When dispossession of memory comes we can no longer hang on to our God-story. We are on this journey because we had seminal experiences, peak experiences that defined our relationship with God and sent us off deeper and deeper into faith. That narrative of our spiritual experience becomes our touchstone. Some of us come out of those encounters with powerful emotional experiences and powerful nostalgia – “Boy I wish that would happen to me again.” The tendency towards nostalgia, idolatry, hanging on to one’s consolations, making road maps, encountering God through the experience/experiencer dialetictic begins to drop out. It is sort of like flatline.  It is very scary. Where are the peaks and valleys. Where are those experiences I used to count on to illumine the path of faith. This is all part of the progress as you move to this different operating system. The use of memory and the experience/experiencer dilemma to seal and capture our relationship with God is up.

There is a removal of spiritual consolations twice:

1. in dark night of sense when old emotional programs of happiness are not being aided and abetted any more. Predictably that will dry up and be replaced by boredom and trauma. And you draw back and rigidify. At some point you learn to keep going irrespective of subjective feeling. much deeper. How you tell the difference is in the ball park of function. What you begin to discover is that in the early stages when it was God and me and all was right comes to a halt, the normal thing is to think I have lost my faith. But what you are getting as an affect is not cynicism, depression, or hopelessness, but in the external world you carry on doing what you are doing but you are a little bit disoriented because all the old retrieval systems are not work any more. There is a different kind of “isness” that you are not used to yet but that is not bad.

You tell the difference between states by smell not by analysis. Be attuned to the sensation of things rather than trying to pick them apart in your mind. Our sensations never lie. Never do anything in inward constriction. When constriction enters falsehood will not be far behind. As you become more able to endure you own restlessness you begin to be able to tell when it is ok and when it is not.

It is as if I have been robbed profoundly, precisely of the comforting, assuring
memory of presence, which is so vital to my self-identity, as it is informed by my
past. I no longer own or possess my interior memories of my past (even in some
exterior ways). If, like a person with amnesia, I were a complete blank, I would not
suffer so. In this way, memory is not exactly “lost.” Instead, it is numbed. I remember
just enough to be in pain. I still know that I once knew (or thought I knew)
God. I still know that I once found meaning and mission in the sense of God’s
presence and love. I know this but I can no longer connect it with myself.
Everything has been de-linked.

I have seen this where you start out on your journey dependent upon so much external rhetoric. God is calling me to this mission, this ministry. You depend upon self-calming. At some point we stop doing that. It is just kind of immature. It feels like a tremendous loss, because you were relying on this God to give you your bearings and your justification. Has God gone? have I gone? Why am I still here?

This is uniformly looked upon as a distressing place for egoic consciousness. Six out of ten therapists would see it as depression and give you things to do to try to recover the perks of the spiritual life.

But what is going on is the dropping out of the dual consciousness you have used to draw energy. But there is a deeper energy beginning to percolate. You wouldn’t be experiencing this if the new were not already there beginning to emerge.

The articulation of the dark night of the spirit is one of the triumphs of the western Christian understanding. It speaks from deep experience of the junction point of the end of the psychological self and the opening to a new sense of self. Everyone pushes you back into the old ways of doing things – pray more, sit more to recover that old energy source.

The intertwining of the dark night of the spirit and depression. How this deconstruction of self can be the basis of hope and radical openness to the future.

All these things that have carried you so far can carry you no farther, not because they were wrong but because they have done all that they can do. When your donkey has carried you to Mecca dismount.