The Means of Saving Us: One Good, Sacred, Memory

We live in partisan times in America.

Depending on where we stand politically,

we see different problems, but everyone seems to agree we have problems.

Serious problems.

The Washington Monument as seen from under the Museum of African American HistoryThe

The Washington Monument as seen from under the Museum of African American History

We yearn for peace.

Yet peace is not possible without “liberty and justice for all.”

Or, to use the framework that John Paul Lederach teaches, derived from Psalm 85,

Truth and Mercy have met together.
Justice and Peace have kissed
.

What can save us?

One small step we can take is to tell stories and listen to stories.

Stories were at the heart of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa in the 1990s.

We don’t have a national structure for this kind of story telling.

Until we do, we can at least start with personal ones.

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s character Alyosha, in the novel The Brothers Karamazov (1880), says,

 My dear children . . . you must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If one carries away many such memories into life, one is safe to the end of one’s days, and if one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may be the means of saving us.

So, let’s start there.

Think of your most cherished memory of childhood, of home. What makes it sacred? How does it make you feel?

I am reading this book now:

See No Stranger by Valarie Kaur

 

This book says that revolutionary love is the call of our times. As the book jacket declares:

This love is a “radical, joyful practice that extends in three directions: to others, to our opponents, and to ourselves. It enjoins us to see no stranger but instead looks at others and says: You are a part of me I do not yet know. Starting with that place of wonder, the world begins to change.

So, what one story, preserved from home or childhood (or anytime, any place), has come to your mind? Please give us a taste of your story below. After you have written your story, seek out a person different from you. Say you have an assignment. Ask them to tell you one “good, sacred memory” from childhood. Listen carefully. Find a small part of yourself you don’t yet know and share your gratitude for the gift.

Shirley Showalter

14 Comments

  1. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on June 25, 2020 at 2:42 pm

    Shirley, I’m writing my memories for my grandchildren in a very simple form. Printed by hand, with pencil crayon illustrations. One memory I just shared with them is that of our oh so busy mother singing to us in the evening. Four children in one bed (it was made wider rather than longer so we could all fit in it) and a baby in the buggy that she pushed while she sang. She didn’t have any time for us during the day, but she took time to sing us to sleep and to teach us our bedtime prayers. Those songs are with me still

    • Shirley Showalter on June 25, 2020 at 3:03 pm

      Elfrieda, I feel certain Alyosha would say this is just the kind of story to preserve and hold sacred. Songs and prayers are so powerful, and this story of “stolen time” should remind harried young mothers who have fewer restrictions on their lives than your mother had but feel guilty for not being “enough” in some way for their child, that Love gets through even if the only time just for the children is at bedtime.

      Now think of someone who might need to hear this story. Find a way to share it. Ask her or him for a story of their own. Spread some Revolutionary Love and then come back to tell us about it!

    • june on June 25, 2020 at 10:41 pm

      My parents lived on Vancouver Island. As a child growing up, we traveled to the mainland on a regular basis. My grandparents had a farm in the Fraser Valley, my Dad’s Mom lived in Abbotsford. I remember traveling on the BC Ferries. As a child, I loved exploring the ship. These were the days before BC Ferries created indoor play spaces and arcades.
      I enjoyed going to the stern of the ship and watch the water being churned up by the props.
      The trip through the Inside passage is still my favorite. The ship slows down and the passage is narrow. I enjoyed passing a ship heading in the opposite direction in the passage and wave to the passengers on deck.

      • Shirley Showalter on June 26, 2020 at 7:07 am

        Ooh, June, that trip through the inside passage sounds mythic. We are all on ferries. Some of us headed in, and some of us headed out. Greek mythology had an elaborate set of stories, rituals, and gods around ferries on the River Styx. I am sure you were not thinking about these as a child!

        But as we age, the mythic passageway we will enter at the end becomes clear to us even if we have not read Greek myths or Jungian psychology.

        That’s why these childhood memories are healing. We get to look at them again and wonder: what was it about that experience that made such a deep impression on me? I have a feeling that the narrow enclosure and the deep connection to people on the other deck were important. I think your story testifies, like Myron’s below, to the human need to connect to strangers and to see ourselves as part of a larger design.

        Now tell this story to someone different and ask if they have any memories evoked by the telling. I’m hoping you will come back and share again.

  2. Laurie Buchanan on June 25, 2020 at 6:53 pm

    Shirley — My favorite memories from childhood are of my mother reading to my sister and me. The three of us would sit on the couch—mom in the middle—with Julie and me on each side (like bookends) and we’d listen, wide-eyed, as she read to us (even doing the different voices and accents when called for). As a family, we did a lot of camping. Mom would still read to us. We’d sit by the campfire, and mom would use a flashlight to see the pages. On these occasions, our dad was mesmerized too.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 25, 2020 at 8:23 pm

      Your story reminds me of my own mother, Laurie. My brother and I would cuddle up to her also. She read with drama and different voices, too. We never went camping, though. Perhaps your love of nature was awakened by those trips and the campfire.

      I’ll bet you will find a way to connect to someone different from yourself and hear a new story of childhood. May you both be blessed.

  3. MYRON SHENK on June 26, 2020 at 12:27 am

    Shirley, this is not from my childhood, but so appropriate in today’s environment: With so much talk about racism I would like to share an experience I had in black and white!
    In 1995 I went to Uganda to conduct a month-long weed management training course under the sponsorship of the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center. I arrived late on a Saturday night. On Sunday morning I asked the manager of the little Pension I was staying in where I might buy a hat. He directed me to an open market nearly one mile away. I found a huge open market with scores of tents and vendors. The market was a cauldron of energy and activity. Vendors calling out the merits of their wares, people bartering over prices, smoke from small charcoal burners infused with the aromas of cooking food, and children with their mothers pushing and shoving to better see the objects of interest all made it a gala affair. I approached the first vendor, a very pleasant young lady in her mid-20s. When I asked for a hat, she quickly said, “Oh, are you afraid that our hot African sun will shine on you and turn you black like us?” I said, “oh no, I wish I were black.” “What, why do you say that?” she asked in disbelief. “Because, black is beautiful, and I would not have so much skin cancer” I said. She suddenly looked at me and said, “Isn’t the world crazy. Here is a white man saying he would like to be black, and we blacks want to be white. Do you see all these jars of creams and lotions? (She pointed to several long rows of neatly stacked jars of creams and lotions). Do you know what they are? We black people rub our skin with these creams so we will be lighter. Aren’t we all crazy!” We looked at each other for a moment, and spontaneously fell into a long embrace, hugging each other with joyous laughter until tears moistened our cheeks. This still remains one of my most cherished moments which still warms my heart 25 years later.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 26, 2020 at 6:52 am

      Myron, what an incredible story. This kind of spontaneous exchange in Uganda is exactly what Valarie Kaur describes in her book. Moments when our prejudices and insularity fall away and we just see each other as vulnerable, beautiful, human beings. This energy is harder to find than the easier energy of blame, shame, and hate, but it is oh so delectable when we find it. Is this your first visit to this blog? I hope you come back and tell us a little more about yourself. I also hope you tell this story to someone different from yourself and ask if they have had moments like this one. Let’s keep the revolutionary love energy moving!

  4. MYRON SHENK on June 27, 2020 at 1:46 am

    Shirley, I actually, I responded to your blog 2 or 3 years ago when you invited people to write about famous people we had met. My famous persons was my maternal grandmother. She was such a positive influence on me, often more by her actions than by her words. I grew up in a logging family (lumberjacks) in Oregon. Three years after graduating from high school I went to Goshen College for two years (1959-1961), then went to Mexico with MCC for two years. Eventually, I completed a masters degree in agronomy at Oregon State University, then joined their staff in 1969, heading up agricultural development/research projects in Ecuador, Bazil, and Costa Rica over a 12 year period. My wife and I always integrated into the local culture in each country, and attempted to live modestly, compared to most foreigners. We have many wonderful memories of interactions with people in each country. I still smile at the young fellow who was studying at a technological school in Brazil, and they assigned him to work with our project for a month of special training. After spending 3 days together on our knees, counting weeds in 20 inch quadrates out in the hot sun, shortly before finishing for the day, he became very serious and said, ‘Sir, you make me very uncomfortable.’ ‘Why?’ I asked. He said, ‘you treat me as an equal. I do not have an advanced degree and all the experience you have. You should not treat me as an equal.’ I shocked him by replying, ‘I treat you as an equal because we are equals, we are both mere humans, created in the image of God,’ and went on to explain how we had equal value as human beings. He was shocked, but later on thanked me, and our relationship from that time on was one of deep mutual respect and relaxation in each other’s company. You ask me about highlights in living and traveling in many countries around the world, and I will always tell you people stories! Professional achievements are often very subjective and fading, but people achievements are enduring and much more meaningful. Shalom.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 27, 2020 at 3:21 pm

      You inspire me, Myron, with these people stories, and I agree 100% about the value of human stories, especially those about refusing to accept either racist or classist (academic status) differences as real. You made the Goshen College motto “Culture for Service” visible in the world, and you inspire me today to believe that these moments, these stories, do make a difference. Thank you for coming back and for your willingness to share what you have chosen to do with your life. God bless.

      • MYRON SHENK on July 1, 2020 at 1:47 am

        Shirley, I will indulge you with one more story; a story I hesitate to share for fear that someone might think it is my story. This is NOT MY story. It is God’s story, and I simply had the privilege of witnessing it, and recording it.

        Nightmares in the Darkness
        As my esteemed assistant, Rigoberto Solano, closed the pickup door I thought he looked rather haggard so did not add “how are you,” to my greeting of “Buenos Dias.” It is not easy to have a good morning when you leave the office at 5:00 am for a 30 mile drive that will require 2 1/2 hours. As he leaned over against the door to sleep he mumbled that his 3 year old daughter, Cynthia, was sick and he had to walk the floor with her all night to keep her from screaming.
        After a long grueling day we returned to the office at 6:00 pm. Just before exiting the pickup, Rigo said he needed to tell me something. He said, “Doctor, didn’t quite tell you the whole truth when I said that Cynthia was sick all night. It wasn’t a physical illness. You see, she cried in her mother’s womb, so she now is a vivente (seer/clairvoyant is the closest translation)”. Quite intrigued, I asked why he linked the two phenomenon. He could not believe that I didn’t know this. He said that everyone knows that if a child cries in their mother’s womb, they will be a vivente. He continued, “Thus, she sees things we don’t see. For example, every night this week when she lay down to sleep, she has seen a monster chasing her and a cousin, attempting to smother them. Last night the monster chased her constantly. If I did not hold her she was terrorized all night.” This had been a common occurrence for several months.”
        After a few moments of silence I reminded Rigo of our recent Bible study in which we had looked at the passage where Jesus said that He came that we might have an abundant and fulfilled life, and that the enemy of our soul comes to rob, steal and kill. (For some two years I had led a Bible study which rotated between two Catholic and two Evangelical homes. There was a wonderful spirit of unity, with no attempts to ‘convert’ any one to a specific ‘religious affiliation.’ Thus, we enjoyed great mutual respect among all). I simply asked Rigo to what power would he would be inclined to attribute Cynthia’s nightmares? He calmly said that did not appear to be something our Lord would do, thus he surmised that it was Satan.
        I agreed with him that this was an attack from Satan, and then told him that I had an odd question, but that I wanted him to think carefully before answering. I then asked if his daughter or his family had any involvement in the Occult. Without hesitation he said, “Every day. You see, my two aunts are witches, and their house is only 5 meters from ours, so Cynthia is with them many hours every day.” After a little more dialogue, I said, “Rigo, would you give me permission to pray for your daughter?” He said “please do.” So, without any fanfare I simply asked the Lord to intervene in this child’s life and break this bondage of Satan that was bringing great sorrow and tension to this fine family. We also reminded Satan that this home was dedicated to God, and Cynthia was a child of God and he must flee.
        The next morning Rigo came to work even more quiet than usual. Finally, I could take the silence no longer and as we took our coffee break I asked how Cynthia spent the night. He said she slept the entire night with no nightmares. This pattern was repeated for two weeks—not a single nightmare. Some four months later in August 1982, our family left Costa Rica to return to Oregon. As I visited in their home that last week, Rigo’s wife expressed immeasurable gratitude to God for the fact that their daughter had not had a single nightmare since that quiet supplication while sitting in our pickup in my driveway. In 2016, some 34 years later, we were in the Solano home and I had the privilege of visiting with Cynthia, now 37 year olds. She told how she remembered those terrible nightmares that finally ended (never to recur again), that night her daddy and I offered a simple supplication to our great God and Savior. Interestingly, even though she was 3 klms away from us, she enthusiastically said, “I still remembers that night when you prayed.” I started to protest that she wasn’t even present. But she ignored my comment and emphatically said, “it left.” We were interrupted at that moment and I never had the opportunity to ask her “what was the ‘it’?” I do believe it was a demonic spirit(s).
        This is the most dramatic answer to prayer I have ever experienced, and I am convinced that God cannot trust me with these experiences as a common event. The old ego would soon be taking credit for it. However, sometimes God exceeds our expectations and leaves us in awe of His works. That was a night the Solanos and I will never forget.

        • Shirley Showalter on July 1, 2020 at 7:43 am

          Thank you again, Myron, for another compelling story. I hope you are saving these and sharing them, at least with family and friends. Maybe in the form of a memoir? I did not know the tradition of “vivente” children. My own 3-year-old granddaughter sometimes amazes us with things she says. I am also impressed that a simple prayer of protection was the only exorcism needed for Cynthia. So glad you have been able to reconnect with the family.

  5. Loretta Willems on June 30, 2020 at 6:29 pm

    Thank you for the Doestoevsky quotation, Shirley. It’s beautiful. I wish it were the epigraph in both of the my books about my family. That preservation of the good that I had experienced, the celebration of it was what drove me to write them.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 30, 2020 at 6:41 pm

      Good to see your name here again, Loretta. I’m glad the quote spoke to you. I hope you keep sharing your memories and connecting with others about theirs. You can always add the epigraph to the second editions. 🙂

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