Mysticism and Memory

Is it possible to remember experiences of God?

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If someone isn’t thinking of God in such a way that God’s presence (or absence) can be felt, might it be at all comparable for that person to be thinking of a memory of such an experience? And if not, what do memories of God actually recall?

I’ve been thinking a bit recently about the relationship of memory and mysticism, and the ways that memory can assist us in the mind’s itinerary toward God, or can even be a part of that journey.

In one sense, memory can never take the place of mysticism. Mysticism is necessarily characterized by immediacy. It is the flight of the alone to the Alone. Memory, however, always mediates, and so it is something entirely other, something entirely unlike mysticism.

Not to mention, mysticism is always within grasp. What it requires is not any special equipment or preparation but only an orientation of the soul, a turning away from the changeable toward the eternal, a movement of the will. We can do this even in the midst of the mundane distractions of life in the world. So then, what could be the point of focusing on memory when it is always possible to seek mysticism itself?

In another sense, we must rely on memory to sustain and direct us. We can’t reach a destination without some sort of map or set of directions, which will have to be held in memory, just as much for the mystic as for anyone else.

Of course the map doesn’t replace the reality. Or does it? It seems to me that perhaps this is where the analogy breaks down. I have an intuition, I suppose, that memory and mysticism can fade into one another. At some point, remembering the experience of turning toward God becomes the act of turning toward God. How could it not?

And that’s where things get really interesting to me, because remembering doesn’t only have to take the form of personal recollection. It can also be dwelling on the testimony of other trusted voices from past and present. I can remember what has happened to me, but I can also remember, in a sense, what has happened to others who share their own experiences of a transcendent reality. I can remember their experience with them, because they have shared it and made it available to me, even though I was not experiencing it with them at the time. I can know, from them, what I have never known for myself. And what might that mean for the mystic?

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