Immortal Memory

“You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments that stand out, the moments when you have really lived, are the moments when you have done things in a spirit of love. As memory scans the past, above and beyond all the transitory pleasures of life, there leap forward those supreme hours when you have been enabled to do unnoticed kindnesses to those round about you, things too trifling to speak about, but which you feel have entered into your eternal life. I have seen almost all the beautiful things God has made; I have enjoyed almost every pleasure that He has planned for man; and yet as I look back I see standing out above all the life that has gone four or five short experiences, when the love of God reflected itself in some poor imitation, some small act of love of mine, and these seem to be the things which alone of all one’s life abide.”
Henry Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World

Whoah. There’s this story in the February National Geographic (Memories Can Be Altered in Mice. Are Humans next?) that has given me some pause for thought. Apparently neuroscientists have found a way to alter memories in mice – to get rid of old mice memories and create new mice memories. And… yikes?

I will not deny there are some memories that bring me pain. And, frankly, there are a LOT of memories that bring me embarrassment. And a few times I’ve caught myself wishing those memories could just go away. But those memories – the painful ones and the embarrassing ones, too – have taught me things that were important for me to learn. Those memories have helped guide the choices and decisions I make during the course of a day. How could I lose those memories and still keep the wisdom they brought?

There have been a few movies that have been built around the notion of memories being altered – Total Recall, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Manchurian Candidate. But those were just fiction. Until now I’ve always been confident that – if I lost everything else – I’d always have my memories of loved ones and good times to help me get through the dark periods in life. As Fred Astaire sang to Ginger Rogers, I’ve always thought, “They can’t take that away from me.”

But the article in National Geographic is nudging me to go deeper in my thinking about memories and memory loss. It’s nudged me to not be so cavalier about my memories, and to ponder the nature of memories and our identity. Are our memories what give us our identity? Would we have different identities without memories? What would the world be like if no one HAD a memory?

As the daughter of a 100 year-old father who has been diagnosed with some memory problems, I’ve sometimes felt the need to give prayerful thought to the notion of memory loss. One passage that has been helpful to me can be found  in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. The author of Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy, writes: “If delusion says, ‘I have lost my memory,’ contradict it. No faculty of Mind is lost. In Science, all being is eternal, spiritual, perfect, harmonious in every action. Let the perfect model be present in your thoughts instead of its demoralized opposite. This spiritualization of thought lets in the light, and brings the divine Mind, Life not death, into your consciousness.”

That passage can be found under the heading Immortal Memory. Which leads me to ponder this: Is there a difference between immortal memory and mortal memory? And, if so, what is it…?

I guess a mortal memory would be a memory that can die? And “immortal memory” is memory that’s eternal?

In his book, The Greatest Thing in the World, Henry Drummond (a popular progressive Scottish minister of the 18th century) shares some of his thoughts on the things that are eternal, and the things that aren’t.

In I Corinthians 13 Paul writes,”Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away…”

In response to this Biblical passage, Drummond writes: “Can you tell me anything that is going to last? Many things Paul did not condescend to name. He did not mention money, fortune, fame; but he picked out the great things of his time, the things the best men thought had something in them, and brushed them peremptorily aside. Paul had no charge against these things in themselves. All he said about them was that they would not last. They were great things, but not supreme things. There were things beyond them. What we are stretches past what we do, beyond what we possess. Many things that men denounce as sins are not sins; but they are temporary. And that is a favorite argument of the New Testament. John says of the world, not that it is wrong, but simply that it ‘passeth away.’ There is a great deal in the world that is delightful and beautiful; there is a great deal in it that is great and engrossing; but IT WILL NOT LAST.”

Drummond goes on to write, “The immortal soul must give itself to something that is immortal. And the only immortal things are these: ‘Now abideth faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love.'”

So here’s what I’m thinking: The mortal memory may fade or be altered, but the love behind the memory – the love that went into making the memory – that stays. That’s an immortal memory.

Dad’s mortal memory isn’t as good as maybe it once was – but the immortal memory – the memory that holds Love – that’s still there. And I’m thinking that if I were to lose all my “mortal memories” – no one can take away the Love that was expressed in them and behind them and the foundation for them. You can’t take THAT away from me. (Imagine Fred Astaire singing here…) No, no, you can’t take that away from me.











Our Memory

If delusion says, “I have lost my memory,” contradict it. No faculty of Mind is lost. – Mary Baker Eddy

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits… Psalm 103: 2

He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered:
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. – Psalms 111: 4

Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not… Proverbs 4: 5


Through the years there’ve been several fictional films that have tackled the subject of false memory – The Manchurian Candidate, Total Recall, and The Bourne Ultimatum come to mind.  But this week I freaked out a little when a friend posted an article on Facebook that reported researchers had, in fact, discovered a way to implant false memories in mice: “Memory researchers from U.S. and Japan have, for the first time, implanted false memories into a lab animal… It’s already clear that people are able to form false memories. Think about that family tale about your getting sick at Disneyland—the one that’s been told so often, you’ve felt yourself ‘remember’ the event more and more over the years, even though you were way too young to truly recall it. Or, more seriously, think about how often eyewitness testimony fails, convicting people who are later exonerated through DNA testing… The team also performed further experiments that showed that the formation of true and false memories both set off a series of molecular changes in the brain that are very similar. So false memories may feel indistinguishable from real ones.” –

The story gave a link to another story – this one titled Why Science Tells Us Not to Trust Eyewitness Accounts:”Many people believe that human memory works like a video recorder: the mind records events and then, on cue, plays back an exact replica of them. On the contrary, psychologists have found that memories are reconstructed rather than played back each time we recall them. The act of remembering, says eminent memory researcher and psychologist Elizabeth F. Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, is ‘more akin to putting puzzle pieces together than retrieving a video recording.” Even questioning by a lawyer can alter the witness’s testimony because fragments of the memory may unknowingly be combined with information provided by the questioner, leading to inaccurate recall.'”

Yeah. Soooo….

How can we trust that what we think we remember actually happened? How can we protect ourselves from false memories? Contrariwise, how can we make our true memories – the memories that we cherish, or that have helped us learn important lessons – safe from tampering or disease? And how do we distinguish the false memories from the true ones?

Were you expecting answers here? 🙂

Nah. I’m just trying to figure it all out, too. But I guess I could share some thoughts I’ve had about it all…

As a history major, it’s always struck me as interesting how people can look at the exact same events and see them in such completely different ways. If you read a school textbook about American history written in, say, 1955, for instance, it seems to tell a completely different story than a textbook written about American history in 1985. And I find it interesting – and personally disturbing – that some events – The Holocaust, for example – are discounted, by some individuals, as never having happened at all. It seems important to me that we remember The Holocaust – the lessons learned from it, and the heroism of those who experienced it, and those who helped others survive it.

One of my favorite books is a book called The Giver, written by Lois Lowery. In the book one boy, Jonas, is chosen to hold the collective memories of his community so that the other members of his community don’t need to be burdened by them. This really stinks for Jonas, and for his community, too. To have shared memories – of both painful times and good times – is comforting, I think. It helps us know we’re not alone and isolated from one another, but connected in our common humanity.

We build our communities, and our own lives, on our memories – learning from our mistakes, remembering and celebrating all the good, keeping loved ones who’ve left us alive in our thoughts.

But what if a memory is holding us back – keeping us from loving, from forgiving, and from moving forward in our lives? That can’t be a good thing, right? Maybe there are times when forgetting is actually a part of the healing? Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, tells us several times in her writings to “forgive and forget”  and Paul writes in Philippians 3: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s words make sense to me. There have been times in my life when a painful experience was so completely healed in my thought it was as if it never happened, and I’ve so completely forgotten it that I was surprised, later, to be reminded of it. One example of this is when my mom called to tell me that the mother of a third grade classmate had called to apologize for blaming me for things I’d never done. She was weepy as she told Mom, “Karen never did anything wrong. She always treated my daughter with kindness. I’m sorry that I was so mean to her.” What this woman was referring to was something that had happened 30 years before! I had completely forgotten about it. I was glad to hear that she and her daughter were doing well. Whatever lessons they’d needed to learn from that experience, they apparently had learned. Now they could forget all about it, too, and move on.

But to get back to the article on mice at the top of the page: What if the painful memory we have is a false memory to begin with – a memory implanted by scientific researchers or a hypnotist or that we’ve unknowingly created ourselves –  how do we discern that it’s false and jettison it? Speaking from personal experience, I’ve sometimes only discovered I was carrying around a false memory after a professor’s given a test and I gave the wrong answer, or after others showed me evidence – notes, letters, videoclips – that proved to me my memories were wrong. It’s always kind of an interesting moment when I realize I was carrying around a false memory. “Whoah! Look at that! I had no idea!”  And it’s always a relief. I can correct my thought then and move on.

Maybe, in the end, the only memories that are important to us are the ones that lead us to self-correction and reformation – and the memories that bring us closer to Love.

God is the only Mind. Our Mind is God. And we’re never for a moment, separated from Mind. That’s kind of reassuring, isn’t it? I mean… we can’t lose our Mind because where would it go? Mind is everywhere, fills all space, and we dwell in the consciousness of Mind. All we can know is what God, Truth, knows. All we can feel is what God, Love, feels. All we can be is God’s expression, manifestation, and reflection. There’s no part of us that can hold false memories, for all we can know is the perfect truth of perfect Mind.

“…you consult your brain in order to remember what has hurt you, when your remedy lies in forgetting the whole thing; for matter has no sensation of its own, and the human mind is all that can produce pain. As a man thinketh, so is he. Mind is all that feels, acts, or impedes action.” – Mary Baker Eddy

“…you will discover the material origin, growth, maturity, and death of sinners, as the history of man, disappears, and the everlasting facts of being appear, wherein man is the reflection of immutable good.” – Mary Baker Eddy

“When we learn that error is not real, we shall be ready for progress, ‘forgetting those things which are behind.'” – Mary Baker Eddy

“Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more”. – Isaiah 54: 4