Remembering makes holidays joyous, grievous, or both; points to God’s love

Lindsey Weishar

My Vocation is Love / Lindsey Weishar

As we move through our Advent journey toward Christmas, it seems that what makes this time of year joyous or grievous is memory. For some of us, the holidays remind us of departed loved ones who can no longer physically share in our celebrations. For others, holidays underscore the warmth, tension, delight, and/or woes that exist within our families. It can be a lovely space; it can be a messy space. Often it is both.

I have recently been reading a book by now Bishop of Trondheim, Norway, Erik Varden. It is called “The Shattering of Loneliness: On Christian Remembrance.” In one of the final chapters, he reflects on the Holy Spirit and the New Testament word for truth — alētheia.

Having just finished describing Virgil’s description of Lethe — the underworld’s river of forgetfulness — in the “Aeneid,” he shows that alētheia is just the opposite of forgetting: “To pursue truth is to swim upstream from Hades, to choose light over darkness, to refuse disintegration.”

My prayer is that the memories the holidays evoke — be they delightful or heavy — draw you nearer to those you love and to God who enters our memory to remind us of himself. 

Varden then goes on to note that it is the Holy Spirt that helps us remember — often again and again — the love of God for us: “The Spirit performs his consoling, illuminating work ecclesially.

His operation is all of a piece: he consoles by creating concord; he leads us toward truth by drawing us out of our cloistered selves into a shared remembrance that sweetens even bitter memories with gratitude.”

This is why it is important that we come to Mass together. It is in the context of others that the remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice takes on special resonance. And I would venture that the Spirit is at work in a similar way when we come together with family and friends for communal celebrations. Ideally, we remember together and our mutual remembering makes our memories richer, our hearts more clearly certain of the truth of what we have experienced.


In the longish car trips I make from Kansas City to Illinois during this time of year, I enjoy settling into a long audiobook. My most recent choice was the original manuscript of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” and in it I have found resonance with Bishop Varden’s work about remembrance.

One of the characters, Prince Andrei, has decided that life doesn’t have much in store for him. He’s suffered a harrowing experience on the battlefield and the death of his young wife. Making a visit to a family friend, he enters a forest and passes a gnarled oak tree that, even though it is spring, has not yet bloomed. Winter still clings to it, and Andrei finds kinship with the tree. A day or two later, he reenters the woods a slightly different man. He has overheard a young woman’s admiration of the moon, and her aspirations, and suddenly, how he remembers is changed:

‘”Yes, it was in this forest here that the old oak stood whose mood seemed to agree with mine,” said Prince Andrei to himself. “Yes, there he is,” he thought as he looked along the left and found himself without knowing or realizing it, admiring the old oak of which he was in search. The old oak, as though transfigured, spread out a mighty tabernacle of dark sunny-green and seemed to swoon and sway in the rays of the afternoon sun. Nothing could be seen of the gnarled branches or of the scars or of the old unbelief and grief. Through the rough, century-old bark had pierced the smooth, succulent young foliage. It was incredible that this patriarch should have produced them.

“Yes, this is the very same oak,” said Prince Andrei to himself and suddenly there came over him an unreasonable but joyous feeling of delight and renovation. All the most sacred moments of his life came to him at one sweep . . . “No, life is not ended at thirty-one,” suddenly said Prince Andrei with resolute, unalterable decision.

“It is a small thing that I myself know what is in me. All others must know it also . . . All of them must learn to know me so that my life may not be spent for myself alone in order that they may not live so independently of my life, that it may send its reflection over all other lives and that they may all live in union with me.”


Those who have seen more years than Prince Andrei may chuckle at his line about life not being over at 31, but there are seasons of our life, whatever our age, where we need reminding about our life’s meaning and direction, and the hope that guides it. This is a moment of spiritual awakening for Prince Andrei. It is a moment of realization of the need for what Varden calls “a communion of remembrance that transcends time and extends beyond death’s frontier.”

My prayer is that the memories the holidays evoke — be they delightful or heavy — draw you nearer to those you love and to God who enters our memory to remind us of himself.

LINDSEY WEISHAR is a poet, freelance writer, and native of Champaign who has a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is executive assistant to the president at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas. Write to her at




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