Memory, Identity, and Resurrection
This Easter Season, I have been puzzling over why the people who lived with Jesus and shared the intimacies and hardships of his travels didn’t recognize him when they encountered the Risen Christ.
I have been reading Oliver Sacks’, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, and came across the notion of emotional memory. Sacks relates the very tragic case of a brilliant music scholar and choral director who suffers an almost total amnesia as the result of encephalitis. He had no episodic memory, which meant that everything kept popping into existence all of the time. However, his ability to sight read and play music from memory was quite intact. He also “recognized” his wife and clung to her. Apparently, according to Sacks, our physical and emotional memory is somehow distinct from our memory of events past and present. It is something much deeper. He also states that our development of episodic memory comes to the fore after the age of two. In those first two pivotal years we develop deep emotional bonds. Learning music, riding a bike, and other types of motor learning have their own place outside of episodic memory. The bonds of deep love even transcend the loss of memory of specific events.
The scene in the garden with the Risen Christ and Mary of Magdala has always resonated deeply within me. Mary is still in a serious state of shock on top of her tremendous grief. Her disorientation seems almost complete when she hears her name in the music of a voice that transcends the memory of events.
So many oceans of ink and uncounted forests have been lost to the question of how we can find the Jesus of history. The disciples left us stories and experiences that are far beyond episodic memory. Their invitation is catechetical – an invitation into the mystery of a love and relationship so intense it is beyond time and memory.