Remembering as Worship

My roots sink deep into the coalfields of West Virginia and the mountain “hollers” of eastern Kentucky. In Appalachia, blue-collar work ethics tangle with generational poverty. Once an industrial river hub, now it’s just another Ohio town where the people work hard and try to live right. 

My parents' parents raised their children here. Dad’s dad was a skilled plumber. He made a good living but drank away his pay. Dad grew up in the streets getting into trouble with the neighborhood boys. He wasn’t much for school or church; but one night in May, his mom took him to a good old-fashioned revival at the Methodist church across the street. My dad heard and believed the news about God’s love and Jesus’s death for him. 

That boy’s encounter with Jesus late one night in 1950 influenced the course of many lives, but especially mine. That son of a drunk who played sandlot football grew to love the Scriptures. He taught his son to love them too. God called him to shepherd his people. He called me, too. He loved his family in a way his dad never could, and now I try to love mine the way my dad did. 

The discipline of remembering

I struggle to find time to remember the past. I’m too busy, a pinball bouncing from this event to that task to this goal to that deadline. If I’m lucky enough to take care of today, I start right in on thinking about tomorrow. Dreams of who I want to be, where I want go, and what I want to do tilt  my mind.

But roots keep us grounded. If I don't start with who I am and what’s shaped me, any dreams of tomorrow will be hollow. My past is the context for my future. Mine is a story is filled with acts of God’s faithful love. I didn’t choose my family, but my parents loved God and raised me to love him.

Remembering is a discipline. It is more than just a good ol’ trip down memory lane; it can be an act of worship. We see this in psalms like Psalm 136:

Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who led his people through the wilderness,
for his steadfast love endures forever (3, 13-16)

The Israelites sang their history, recorded in Psalm 136, during temple worship and before battles. It was their way of gathering strength.

When’s the last time you made space in your schedule, not to create a “to-do” list or organize your calendar, but to think about your past? If it’s been a while (or never), try thinking through these questions:

  1. What are the most significant events, both good and bad, that have happened in my life?  
  2. What people have been most influential in my life? Why were those relationships meaningful?
  3. What do these events and relationships reveal about God’s goodness and faithfulness to me?

These questions will remind us that most significant events and relationships we’ve experienced were not of our own making. Who we are today has had less to do with us than we often like to admit. Our past reveals the wise and loving hand of God, weaving events and relationships together for our good and his glory.  Remembering is worship because teaches us that God is God, and we’re not.

Tomorrow is shaped by what God has done for us in the past. The discipline of remembering connects me to the good ground under my feet for walking forward. The past speaks hope, because the God of my past is the God of my future. I won’t be alone. After all, he was with me before I was even born.

Photo: Marion Post Walcott, 1938