Unchain The Word Through Memory

by | Oct 26, 2016 | Formation, Reflections | 3 comments


Unchaining The Word Through Memory

One short sentence in Paul’s letter to Timothy (2 Tim 2: 10) caught my attention right off, “The word of God is not chained.” Paul himself is in chains, and it’s the contrast here that’s striking him. The Word of God is the opposite of this, not bound down, not hemmed in, able to break free.

But we know that in fact there are things in peoples’ lives which do work to impede the freedom of the Word, things which do lock it up. Selfishness and narrow mindedness and tribalism and life-long resentments are candidates here.

But there’s one kind of chain which, because it’s so everyday, isn’t easily thought of as an impediment. And that’s plain old forgetfulness, plain old letting what’s been important in our life with God slip from mind and heart. And its antidote? Remembering, bringing back up into awareness what of the Lord’s favor has come to us over the course of life.

Mary Oliver has a poem entitled “It” which goes something like this:

When did it happen?    A long time ago.

            Where did it happen?    I really don’t recall.

            Come on now, where did it happen?   Well, in my heart.

            And what is it that your heart has been doing with it? 

                        Remembering, remembering, remembering.

She’s testifying to some soul stirring times and events in her life, the kinds of things that “made all the difference.” She can’t say where it happened geographically, but rather she locates the spot within herself where it registered — in her heart. And then she tells how she keeps going back into her heart to stay in touch with “it” and keep it fresh. How? By remembering, remembering, remembering. By doing different things to bring it back and keep it alive and unlock its force and impact. You might even say, unchain it.

And isn’t that notion of remembering such a strong thread winding through the other readings today. (Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

There’s Naaman, the foreigner whom Elisha cured of his leprosy (2 Kings 5: 14-17).Talk about an “it” event in a life. After the cleansing happens, he celebrated and pressed his thanks on the prophet. But notice Naaman’s request at the end of the story. “I have to take something back from this place so when the excitement of my cure starts to dim, I’ll have something to remind me of it. So I’ll fill up these bags with soil, carry them home and spread the dirt around outside my front door. I need this reminder. I need things to bring to mind what I was given here. I want to be sure the giftedness of this day stays fresh – ever new over the years.”

It brings to mind a commentary on the incident of Jesus curing the paralyzed man who was let down through the roof. “Pick up your mat and walk,” says Jesus.

The commentator follows that man home and plays out what he did with that cot. He has him standing it up in a corner of his bedroom and using it as a kind of constant companion to remind him of the great favor he received that day. The sight of the cot would trigger his memory – and so keep the great gift fresh and alive. Again, remembering as a way to release the power of the gift given.

In Luke (17:11-19) we have the ten lepers who are cured. The way the story runs, it seems nine of them didn’t do much remembering at all of what happened and who it was who imparted the great gift. But one did, the outsider Samaritan. Can we also follow him back home and wonder if he too had picked up some item at that place of meeting Jesus and brought it back home? What he’s known for most is his remembering — you might even call him the Bible’s patron saint of remembering. And if true to form, it’s likely he kept up that remembering so as to keep fresh the wonder of the gift.

The point: remembering as one way to unchain the power of the Word.

Isn’t it what the Jewish people have done for thousands of years at Passover; i.e., in their ritual meal, not only recalling their freedom event at the Red Sea, but reliving it, bringing it into the present. Isn’t this in a still fuller sense what we do when we gather around the Eucharistic table and “do this in remembrance” of Him? Here we participate in this action which is not only a reminder of who freed us and the way He did it — but a reliving of it, a bringing it into the here and now to bless us all over again. Remembering, remembering.

So how does one unchain the Word of God, at least as it lives in our hearts? Many ways. But one is this life-long remembering, remembering, remembering. We look to whatever each of us keeps in our hands and hearts that has the power to wake us up to the past events of our own coming to the light, that can bring back our own times of “being saved.” We recall and relive those occasions, big and little, in our own lives when we experienced that special “IT” of God’s grace.

Testifying to what his gospel is for him, the one for which he is presently suffering even to the point of chains, Paul makes this attestation: “Beloved ones, this is my gospel: Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead. This is my gospel.

Remember Jesus Christ. Unchain the Word.


  1. Ross

    Thank you, Tom. Another great insight from you, beautifully and clearly expressed the way you always do. Remembrance does unchain; forgetfulness makes for obstinacy, decadence, lack of trust, rebellion, inordinate cravings, envy, idolatry, lack of understanding, waywardness, ingratitude (Ps 78, 11; 106, 13-14. 21).

  2. Marguerite Broderick

    This is a great reminder to all of us to remember the important things….thanks Fr Tom.

  3. Jack Timlin

    Thanks Tom for reminding me to remember all the good with which God has blessed me.

    Jack Timlin