Door 14: Remembering Forward

By Jan Richardson

Image: Where Hope Lives © Jan Richardson

Canticle, Advent 4: Luke 1.46b-55

Today finds me still pondering the Magnificat. Mary’s song has me thinking about a passage in Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking-Glass, in which the White Queen and Alice have this exchange:

“The rule [says the White Queen] is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam to-day.”

“It must come sometimes to ‘jam to-day,'” Alice objected.

“No, it can’t,” said the Queen. “It’s jam every other day: to-day isn’t any other day, you know.”

“I don’t understand you,” said Alice. “It’s dreadfully confusing!”

“That’s the effect of living backwards,” the Queen said kindly: “it always makes one a little giddy at first—”

“Living backwards!” Alice repeated in great astonishment. “I never heard of such a thing!”

“—but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.”

“I’m sure mine only works one way,” Alice remarked. “I can’t remember things before they happen.”

“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,” the Queen remarked.

“What sort of things do you remember best?” Alice ventured to ask.

One of the things that strikes me most about Mary’s canticle is that in singing about how God turns the world upside down, she sings as if these things have already come to pass. In Mary’s chosen tense, God has already accomplished the righting of the world. Mary knew, as we know, that redemption and restoration was still a work in progress. But so transformed was Mary that she could sing of this as though it had already happened. She is remembering forward.

We have a fancy theological term for what Mary does there.

It’s called hope.

Hope is a tricky thing. Given how intimately it’s intertwined with our longings and desires, both conscious and subconscious, hope can sometimes slide into delusion or obsession, when we’re so consumed by a desired outcome that it can distort our perceptions. Or hope can dissipate into wishful thinking, in which we want something to happen but are idly waiting for someone else to take care of it.

You may recall that hope was the last thing left in Pandora’s box. After all the plagues, griefs, sorrows, and misery had flown out of the box in order to visit themselves upon humanity, hope remained. There’s some debate as to whether hope was the final curse of the box, or its great gift.

Some say that hope is a plague that keeps us too much in the future, that it prevents us from clearly perceiving the present and our role in it. I think these folks have a limited definition of hope. Hope may turn our eyes toward the horizon, but true hope, full hope, roots us deeply in the present. It beckons us to do more than wish or want or wait for someone else to do something. It calls us to discern what’s beneath our wishes, to discover the longings beneath our longings, to dig down to the place where our deepest yearning and God’s deepest yearning are the same. And when we find that, when we uncover those deepest desires, hope invites and impels us to participate in bringing about those things for which we most keenly long.

That’s why Mary could sing about these events as if they had already happened. She carried within her the meeting place of her longing and God’s yearning. Her yes to God, to bearing the God who was already taking flesh and form within her, was a microcosm of what God was doing in the world. What God had accomplished within her, God was accomplishing within the world. Had accomplished. Would accomplish.

Tenses fail me.

I just saw an episode of Star Trek: Voyager a couple days ago, one of those episodes where they were playing around with the time line. When I see one of these, I have to just sit back and not try to make too much sense of things or I’ll get a headache. In this episode, a couple of fellows from the future, or maybe the past, who knows, have shown up because the space-time continuum has been disturbed (again), and they’re trying to fix it. One of them, in explaining what’s going on, finally says, “I gave up trying to figure out tenses a long time ago.”

I know the feeling.

This kind of hope, the kind that bends our understanding of time and tenses, recognizes that God has a very different relationship with time than we do. Though God dwells within history, to say that God’s sense of time is largely non-linear is vastly understating it. The tense that Mary uses in her Magnificat strikes me because it is unusual, but I suspect it’s the kind of tense that God uses continually.

I have a couple of writer friends I meet with every month or so. In addition to sharing something we’ve been working on, we also spend a few minutes on an impromptu writing exercise. One year around this time, we wrote about how we spent our holidays. The better portion of the holidays still lay ahead of us. We wrote out of a sense of hope and longing for what God would/did bring about in our lives, in the world, in the holy days to come.

Taking a cue from the White Queen, from Alice, from Mary, from my writing companions, I want to ask: What sort of things do you remember best about this Advent, this Christmas, this coming year? What did God bring to pass in the days to come? How did you participate with God in the living out of your deepest hopes, those hopes that, like Mary’s, were so powerful that they transformed not only you but the world as well?

In his book Trumpet at Full Moon, W. Paul Jones writes, “Hope is the simple trust that God has not forgotten the recipe for manna.” May manna (perhaps with a side of jam to-day) abound in this Advent season.

And so it did.

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2 Responses to “Door 14: Remembering Forward”

  1. warren Says:

    It strikes me that this is Eucharistic language, the anamnesis in which God’s saving actions of the past, present, and future all meet in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the wine. We celebrate being the Body of Christ redeemed in Christ’s blood and sent out to participate in God’s hope, the hope that Mary describes in the Magnificat. May we all remember forwards with hope.

  2. Phyllis Thomas Says:

    This plays with my mind. I don’t know if I’ve ever “remembered forward”. I have to give some thought to this. If I haven’t, is it because of fear of disappointment? Do I have the hope that God has not forgotten the recipe for manna? I seem to have a lot of “self-effort” in my hope and this has challenged me to re-visit the faith of Mary and give freedom for God’s non-linear “time-table”. Thanks for the meal.

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