Faith as Remembering
Paul O. Ingram
Pacific Lutheran University
Somewhere, Stephen of Hungary (975-1038) once said, “Without a past, a nation has no future.” The same is true for human beings. His words have a Whiteheadian ring about them. For the sake of our own futures, we must remember how the past has formed us in the present, what the past has brought us. This process involves positive and negative “prehensions” of the past, a process of ringing the past into the present as we anticipate future possibilities. We only know what we have experienced, and we must remember what we know in order to have a meaningful, non-repetitive, future of creative possibilities, a future marked by what process theologians call “creative transformation.”
It sounds quite easy, remembering what we know. But there is no better definition of faith. In remembering the past we are drawn to future possibilities (God’s initial aim for all things and events ceaselessly moving through space-time) that we must take into ourselves and somehow balance with our subjective aims for ourselves that are mostly in conflict with Gods initial aims for us. Knowing and remembering are the yin and yang of faith, the defining polarities of faith.
Faith has little to do with “belief.” “Beliefs” are opinions we assert without sufficient evidence to call our beliefs “knowledge.” “I know something to be true or false” is different from “I believe something to be true or false.” Beliefs may be true, false, stupid, irrelevant, superstitious, or weird. Beliefs may even express faith. But beliefs do not engender faith. As Luther found out the hard way, no one has ever believed oneself into faith. We find ourselves in a state of faith, of trust, and then have to interpret and understand what we are into, which is the function of theology, that is, “beliefs.” Belief and doubt are two sides of the same coin whose only value is in an exchange of knowledge. They can crystallize as opinions that buy us nothing, or work for my profit as questions, for since both are really saying, “I don’t know, but . . .” they can lead us back to ask, ‘What, then, is true.” And if questions are pursued in fact, not fancy, it will bring us to new knowledge. But it all begins with faith as remembering, as trust.
But if we are unfaithful, we forget. We forget our own experiences, which have shown us that the unknown exist and that we are contained in it. We know this because we always come up against the limits of our knowing and the fact that there is always something beyond what we know; because we have, if we are awake, experienced “miracles”—inner and outer events that cannot be explained by anything we “know.”
So it is certain that the unknown surrounds us. Mostly, we forget. But when we remember we know the unknown as much as it can be known, but never completely. Then we become open to it, feel (“prehend”) our relation with it, and understand by experience that it is the soured of all knowing. Then we understand that it is the unknown that remembers us, and in remembering, we find (“prehend”) our own meanings.