THE SOUL AS TEMPLE OF MEMORY
The Celtic stories suggest that time as the rhythm of soul has an eternal dimension where everything is gathered and minded. Here nothing is lost. This is a great consolation: the happenings in your life do not disappear. Nothing is ever lost or forgotten. Everything is stored within your soul in the temple of memory. Therefore, as an old person, you can happily go back and attend to your past time; you can return through the rooms of that temple, visit the days that you enjoyed and the times of difficulty where you grew and refined your self. In actual fact, old age, as the harvest of life, is a time where your times and their fragments gather. In this way you unify your self, achieve a new strength, poise and belonging that was never available to you when you were distractedly rushing through your days. Old age is a time of coming home to your deeper nature, of entering fully into the temple of your memory where all your vanished days are secretly gathered awaiting you.
The idea of memory was very important in Celtic spirituality. There are lovely prayers for different occasions. There are prayers for the hearth, for kindling the fire and for smooring the hearth. At night the ashes were smoored over the burning coals, sealing off the air. The next morning the coals were still alive and burning. There is also a prayer for the hearth-keepers which evokes St Bridget, who was both a pagan Celtic goddess and a christian saint. In herself, Bridget focuses the two worlds easily and naturally. The pagan world and the Christian world have no row with each other in the Irish psyche, rather they come close to each other in a lovely way. This is a prayer for the hearth which also recognizes memory:
Brighid of the Mantle, encompass us,
Lady of the Lambs protect us,
Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us,
Beneath your mantle, gather us
And restore us to memory.
Mothers of our mother,
Fore mothers strong,
Guide our hands in yours,
Remind us how
To kindle the hearth.
To keep it bright,
To preserve the flame,
Your hands upon ours,
Our hands within yours,
To kindle the light,
Both day and night.
The mantle of Brighid about us,
The memory of Brighid within us,
The protection of Brighid keeping us
From harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness,
This day and night,
From dawn till dark,
From dark till dawn.
(by Caitlín Matthews)
This is a fine recognition of the circle of memory holding everything together in a hospitable unity.
In a positive sense, ageing becomes a time for visiting the temple of your memory and integrating your life. Integration is a vital part of coming home to your self. What is not integrated remains fragmented; sometimes it can come into great conflict within you. The presence and process of integration brings you more fully home to your self. There is so much that needs to be integrated within each person. Camus said, aptly, that after one day in the world you could spend the rest of your life in solitary confinement and you would still have dimensions of that day's experience left to decipher. So much happens to us even within the simple circle of a day of which we are unaware. To visit the temple of memory is not merely to journey back to the past; it is rather to awaken and integrate everything that happens to you. It is part of the process of reflection which gives depth to experience. We all have experiences, but as T. S. Eliot said, we had the experience but missed the meaning. Every human heart seeks meaning; for it is in meaning that our deepest shelter lies. Meaning is the sister of experience and to discern the meaning of what has happened to you is one of the essential ways of finding your inner belonging and discovering the sheltering presence of your soul. There is an amazing line in the Bible from the prophet Haggai: 'You have sown so much but harvested so little.' Everything that happens to you is an act of sowing a seed of experience. It is equally important to be able to harvest that experience.