We-maginitive Remembering: Communities of Faith and the Making of their Sacred Stories

“Imaginative remembering,” as Brueggemann and Linafelt describe it in An Introduction to the Old Testament, is the relationship between describing historical events and how these events become sacred. As a writer rooted in the Southern oral tradition and my Mennonite heritage, this term resonates deeply with me. Significant life events, especially with regards to faith, reside most often in memory and I find that their power only increases when the story is shared communally in conversation and via the written word.

Perhaps it is like a family gathering. People with shared experiences relate the stories of these experiences. There is laughter. There is pain. There is often an acknowledgement of the presence of God in these experiences, which is more apparent when one looks back and can see God’s providence during hard times. The sharing is a reminder and also a witness to the young or those who did not experience the events firsthand. As they listen and own the story, they become a part of it.

This imaginative remembering is not a solitary endeavor. Perhaps a better term is “WE-maginitive remembering.” As people with shared experiences reflect on those past experiences together; asking questions, engaging the story, filling in the details with each other to create a fuller picture of what happened, something sacred happens. The event becomes significant because more than one person finds it significant. It is not just a matter of saying, “This is what happened.” It becomes a matter of “This is how the community remembers what happened.” The scribe then takes these memories, writes them down and as they are embraced by the community, they become sacred. That is a very different thing than simply just reporting on a historical occurrence.

But the stories are not stagnant. Even if repeated verbatim, new perspectives occur in the sharing. This is what the authors talk about with regards to imagination, ideology, and inspiration. The story is constantly changing as each of these factors are engaged in the telling and retelling of the same story. We can listen to the same story because it is familiar. We know the outcome. We laugh and cry at all of the right spots. But it changes with every telling. As I grow and gain new experiences, my imagination can fill in greater details. As I grow in my faith, I gain a different perspective as to the larger God-Story. As I am more fully engaged in this story, I can have a greater appreciation for those early witnesses who were inspired to give voice to the story.

Different communities of faith give varying degrees of weight to each of these factors. For Islam, it is inspiration, in the form of a text given directly by God through the prophet Mohammed. For Judaism, centered around the Torah, it is ideology. For Christians, with its reliance on a scripture of many hands, it is imagination. But each community of faith has elements of all three and the story above all is vibrant and communal. It continually engages the collective imagination of a community of faith.

September 6, 2017

Response to week 1 readings for the Strange New World of the Bible course I am taking at AMBS.

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