Monday, May 28, 2018

In Praying, Remember

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Tiger Swallowtail, Yellow springs, Ohio
(From John Piippo, Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God, Chapter 13, "Praying and Remembering.")

I was born in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My parents moved to Rockford, Illinois, when I was a year old. That’s where I lived for the next twenty years. The streets of Rockford were my holy ground. Whenever I return to Rockford I like to walk in my old neighborhood. I’ve done this many times, carrying my journal and camera with me. 

We lived on a cul de sac. The address was 3012 20th Avenue. Our phone number was 399-7931. These particulars, minä muistan. ("I remember," in Finnish)

Adjacent to our house was 25th Street Park. I loved that park! I spent countless hours playing there with my friends. That was the late 1950s and 1960s. I have not forgotten. 

I am thankful for my childhood. I could not wait for school to end and summer to begin! I had fun, adventure, and growth in a world without the Web. We had TV, but only three stations. Reception depended on which way the antenna on the roof was pointing. My father had to climb on the roof to adjust the picture. 

I played from sun-up to sundown. I hear my mother’s voice calling me in the dark - “John, it’s time to come in!” 

As I walk down 20th Avenue, my five senses recall. My parents are dead, but I smell my mother’s cooking. We rarely ate out. For me that was no loss, since I’ll eat from my parents’ table any time. 

Mom loved to cook, and loved to watch us enjoy her creations. Her esteem came from providing and home-making. She taught me how to make mashed potatoes. I’ve never met a mashed potato that measured up to my mother’s. In her cooking I encountered Platonic Forms, by which all shadowy, insubstantial culinary efforts were judged. 

I walk to Rolling Green School, where I attended kindergarten through fourth grade. Then to Whitehead Elementary School, Jefferson Junior High School, and finally, to Rockford East High School. Whitehead and Jefferson were brand new when I was there. Now, they have aged. Everything here is older. I see the same trees, but they are bigger. My parents are buried in a cemetery a few miles from here. I am older.

One year my father brought home a small pine tree he dug up from the family farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He planted it at 3012 20th Avenue. It was so small I could jump over it. Now, sixty years later, it’s tall. I walk past, pluck a pine cone, and take it with me back to Michigan. One of these cones made it to my office. I left it there for years. On occasion I held it, and thought of my father and mother and family. It is good to do this. I will never forget where I have come from. 

Remembering is sweet for me. I know that’s not so for everyone, but it is for me. Therefore, I remember. 

I remember loving, hard-working parents. I remember how they looked after me, and fed me, and clothed me. I remember my mother taking me to a store named Goldblatt’s to buy a madras shirt and a pair of Levi’s jeans. I remember my father, every winter, making an ice rink in our back yard. I remember every square inch of that small yard that I mowed and played in. I remember my mother making “pasties” and fruit pies. 

I remember my father hitting baseballs to me in the park. I remember my neighborhood friends, and every crack in the sidewalk on 20th Avenue. I remember going to our Lutheran Church, and having my father as a Sunday School teacher. I remember the smell of the brand new ‘55 Chevy dad bought - two-toned green. I remember our pet dog “Candy.” I remember sharing a bedroom with my brother Mike. 

I do not forget. 

Spiritually, “remembering” is foundational. Remembering is core Judeo-Christian activity. This is not about “nostalgia.” I don’t dwell in the past, or long for a return to it. My many returns to walk in the old neighborhood are sacred. They are holy. “Holy” means: “set apart.” A tiny, mundane piece of earth becomes the center of the universe, the place where God manifests his glory and presence. 

Remembering, as essential covenant activity, is not really about the past. My memory-walk is a full-bodied eschatological event. To understand the future and to have hope, I must remember the past and where I came from. I am a hopeful person today because of my past, a childhood filled with days of expectancy. As I walk these earthly streets I think of the new heaven and new earth that is to come. It will be a safe, loving, playful, and adventurous place. My entire family will be there. I rejoice. 

I remember Christ, and what God, in Jesus, has given me. I remember the “rescue.” I remember what the Lord has done. The Lord has done great things for me, and I am filled with joy. 

Remembering creates expectation. Expectation concerns hope. Hope is future-oriented. 

As I pray, I remember the deeds of the Lord, in my life.