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Scars and Altars: Sacred Memories of Who We Are

So the other day I happened to look down at my foot and saw a small discolored spot on my foot.  I saw the spot and immediately remembered when I got the scar while I was living in the Philippines.  I can’t recall exactly how I cut it open but it never quite healed right.  Its not problematic at all – in fact as I saw it I thought: It’s a gift.  It’s a gift because when I see it I’m immediately taken back to a time full of memories that are important to me and yet can become lost in the stuffed filling cabinet that is my mind.

I have similar scars on most of my body.  There is one I cannot see that is from taking a header into a radiator when I was four years old.  There is one on my right thigh from a camping accident when I was a kid.  I have a couple from a MRSA infection I got , and yes there is the two little teeth marks I seem destined to carry on my wrist from a vampire attack.  (Okay so it was a Chihuahua attack… seriously.  I was viciously mauled by my neighbors Chihuahua.  It’s a good story.)

They all lead to stories.

My scars are living memories etched in skin and I carry them as proud reminders to myself.  As I was thinking this the other day it occurred to me that there is something very spiritual about these scars.  There is a ritual significance about creating markers in our lives that keep us in mind of our powerful stories.  The Jews dotted the landscape of their physical lives with just such “scars.”

“‘Take twelve stones… and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.’” …When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’  then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord… these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.” –Joshua 4:2-7

“Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid… So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel… “This stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house” –Genesis 28:16-22

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart… bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  -Deuteronomy 6:4-9

These are just a couple… the landscape is littered with them.  And it makes every vista holy.  And we need such reminders.  We need to remember that we were slaves and royalty.  That we were rescued and that we failed in our responsibility.  That we are comforted and not alone and that we are called to do as has been done for us.

We need to remember that there was a time we understood it all with simplicity and then there was that time we had to journey to Mount Moriah because an unfathomable God spoke foolishness to us. We need to remember these stories because without them we are likely to construct a world far too small than even our own lives attest to – and we are likely to listen only to the ephemeral wisdom of today when once we knew far more.

We cannot remember it all in a single moment – but we can dot our horizons with reminders and warnings and the signs we need to find our way.  We need to remember these things because they are the root of empathy.  They remind us that right at this moment I am both beggar and rich man – that I’m spiritually lost and found – that I’m hurting and whole.  Because without such recognition it is so easy to fall into the trap of not caring about the other… because we falsely believe they are – other.

We need to remember these stories because pleasure and pain we are a product of our journey and we are much healthier beings when we are aware from what biases and baggage we are making our choices rather than simply allowing our subconscious fears and affinities to rule our lives.

All these memories – marked with altars and scars – are holy tabernacles of our being.  They are scripture written in the world around us and giving meaning to our lives –  if we can but hold on to their creative power. Holy places aren’t some place where we found God as if God was hiding, but they are all the places that our stories leaked – even bled – out sacred and foundational meaning about who are, whose we are, and with whom we are inseparably linked. Blood, sweat, and tears (of joy and sorrow) gave them birth… and they gave birth to us.

What scars do you carry as reminders of the stories that gave birth to you?  What Holy spaces carry meaning in your unfolding journey to center you and grant you wholeness?  What do you bind on your doorstep as a reminder that you are not alone… but also that you are not the center of the universe?  What altars have you constructed to be tangible reminders as you walk through the world to live with empathy and care as one who is inseparably woven into the lives of all you meet?

A New Year’s Eve Reflection

I tend to think that most nostalgia about the past is born of poor and selective memory (we mostly only remember the good parts or remember how we imagine it was).

On the flip side there can be memories so painful we become stuck in the horror of it all, unable to imagine goodness. Such memories become too powerful and infest our minds stealing the real joy that is there.

Somewhere between these… Life is.

There will almost always be reasons for great joy and heart-wrenching anguish. There will be stories of hope and transformation amidst ongoing struggles with injustice and systems of power and abuse so deeply rooted they seem too entrenched as to be immovable. Our daily lives are a mix of wondrous mystery, dis-eased anxiety, unnoticed miracles, and unaddressed abuse to self and others.

I understand we cannot remember it all. But on a day of remembering may we seek authenticity: lament and praise. Claim hurt and hope. Notice milestones lived and paths yet untaken. May our memories of the past be whole so that our hopes for the future may be realistic, and may we avoid hyperbole – either with perfection or perdition.

Tomorrow is not a clean slate, but it is a new day where new choices and new directions may be taken (as all days are). Let us make the most of it – in deed and not words alone. Happy end of 2013 to you all, and a Happy New Year!