Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Imagine Forgetting

A couple blogs back we were talking about time—about chronological time vs. living in the moment, and then considering how that momentary time (in Greek, kairos) was redefined roughly 2000 years ago.  In that blog I said how people are like elephants, and we tend to remember a lot of things.  I have vivid memories not only of my adulthood but even of my childhood.  My wife says that’s because I’m a writer; but I say, I’m a writer because I tend to remember.

But this blog is not about remembering but about forgetting.  That may seem to be more than a paradox: it may seem to be hypocritical to say, on the one hand, we tend to remember but then on the other hand, to turn right around, and say that we need to forget.  Now let me say that what you’re about to read won’t be hypocritical.  Nothing bothers me more than hypocrisy, for if there is any way to define sin—and my non-Christian friends like to try to get me to do that because they love to find exceptions to the rule; it’s a kind of game, I imagine—hypocrisy is that way to define it.  Run your eyes over the Ten Commandments, for example, or do it from memory, if you happen to know them.  At any point if you violate any one of them, think about it, you’ll pretend, in certain circumstances, that you did not.  You might confess to a close friend that you stole that thing or lied about something to someone’s detriment (which is what bearing false witness is about), or coveted a friend’s lifestyle or car or garden, but if asked publicly about that, chances are you’d deny it.  Same with murder, which hopefully, you haven’t done, same with adultery, etc. So hypocrisy is definitely not what I’m getting at here. 

Photo credit: Smythe Richbourg,

Nor am I writing in this blog about the healthy practice of intentionally forgetting other people’s sins against you. That’s an excellent practice and one that takes time to develop; it’s not easy.  It’s something like mastering a skillful billiards shot or a timely quip at a dinner party. No, that’s not what I’m getting at either.

Photo Credit: Michael Curi,

What, then?  I am talking about imagining forgetting.  If I’m right, and we humans tend to remember a lot of things, from the hurts we’ve experienced, to joys to random moments in our lives, then what I am about to suggest is something we must imagine doing, for I want to lay out a scenario where we intentionally imagine forgetting.  Imagine if you could forget all the things people have told you about people.  We are told that we are creatures of our habits; we are told that the world is a certain way—fluid—and we need to adjust to that fluidity, go with the flow, not resist it, for it is unnatural to do that.  We are told this or that political system is best, that guns should carried by practically everyone; that they should be banned. That there should be a southern border wall; that there shouldn’t be one.  That kneeling for the national anthem is an act of patriotism; that it is not.  That bathrooms should not be binary; that they should. That there is no such thing as right and wrong; that the opposite is true, there is such a thing as right and wrong, even if sometimes it is not easy to see. 

And all that endless din of opinion wears us down.  It wears me down, at any rate.  But what if we could forget all that?  What if we could just tune out all the constant droning of the world’s background noise and just go away and think.  What if we could forget the professor in college who said there is no God and equally forget the evangelist who once knocked on our door with some “reading material” to tell us all about his particular version of God—sometimes trying to judge us to make himself feel more righteous, I imagine, rather than trying actually to invite us to church or the like.

But what if we could forget not our lives, per se, but “it”—all the things the world tells us to think, to eat, to wear to become self-fulfilled—and instead, what if we could go, in our mind, somewhere safe to reflect.  What would we find there?  How would we honestly evaluate not who we are but who we have become? 

Photo credit: elmer.O in

I think for each person, there will be a different answer.  Let’s take one example: a long time ago, someone named Elijah did this very thing, and he did so when he was in a moment of great distress.  He went to a place called Beersheba and went into the wilderness and sat under a juniper tree and felt that he had had enough of this world—he was, in a sense, at his wits’ end.  He examined his life and felt that he, like everyone else, had lived a life that wasn’t as fulfilled as he might have wished, that was cluttered with the same sins as everyone else.  And he was probably right.  And when he was there, in that uncluttered and quiet moment, something amazing happened. He went into a cave and temporarily forgot all the problems he was having and received spiritual nourishment that would help him through a difficult time, when he needed it—which was over a month long, according to the story.  And he poured out his heart there to God—his deepest concerns, his deepest disappointments, his deepest fears.  And then came a big blast of wind; but no, God wasn’t in the wind; then the earth shook, but no, God wasn’t in that, either; and a fire, too, but no, not there either.  And then came a small, still voice.  And he poured out his fears again when he heard the voice.  And that’s where he found peace, or maybe Peace found him.[1]

Elijah left that cave with purpose, maybe for him for the first time in a long time.  He found a way to put off his burdens, to offload his cares, his sadness, his fears, his shortcomings.  In the modern age in which we live, perhaps it is hard to imagine forgetting long enough to hear that voice.  After all, who has time to go into a cave for several days?  Yet maybe we don’t need a cave.  Maybe we just need to take the time to be alone, to think, to review our lives with God, to imagine forgetting.  Imagine that: if we can only imagine forgetting we might be able to see clearly again or, perhaps, for the first time, the first real kairos.

Small Still Voice, painting by James Ramirez,

[1] My summary here is based on 1 Kings 19.