As I Recall (Case Tygrett) -- A Review
AS I RECALL: Discovering the Place of Memories in our Spiritual Lives. By Casey Tygrett. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2019. 205 pages.
The prophets often tell us to forget the former things, though Scripture also regularly calls on us to remember what God has done in the past. The point of forgetting often has to do with letting go of failed pathways, when we chose to go it alone without God. The call to remember is often related to the promises of God, the memory of which reminds us that since God was faithful in the past, we can expect God to be faithful in the present and in the future. So, which is it? Should we forget or should we remember? Apparently, it depends on the circumstances. As I was thinking about it, the pastoral side of me might encourage forgetting, while the historian side of me wants us to remember.
Writing in support of the cause of remembering, though not from a historian’s perspective, is Casey Tygrett. Tygrett’s bio tells us that he is a writer, pastor, and spiritual director. Currently, he serves as “theologian in residence” at Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park, Illinois. He has also taught at two seminaries related to the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. For my own purposes, this means he is part of the larger faith community known as the Stone-Campbell Movement.
Early on Tygrett introduces a metaphor that will appear throughout the book. That metaphor has to do with gathering/collecting shells. He notes that early on in the life of his family, they would go to Grand Cayman Island for vacation. While on the island, the family would gather shells. In this book, memories are like the shells the family collected. They serve as reminders of where we've been and what we are. He notes that as with the shells, we weed through our memories. We keep some and get rid of others. So, with the metaphor serving as a foundation, Tygrett invites us to lay out our shells and ask two questions: "What do I recall?" and "Why?"
Tygrett's book weaves personal narrative with the biblical story. Memories have to do with the past. Often, we hear that the past doesn't define us. I’ve made that statement in more than a few sermons. Tygrett wants us to rethink that statement, suggesting as an alternative that the past (our memories) don't determine us. It might not sound that much different, but in Tygrett’s mind, they are very different. What he wants us to accept is the principle that our pasts do define us. We are a product of our experiences. Some are good. Some are not. When it comes to bad memories/experiences, they will need to be redeemed. This the heart of the book. The invitation to allow God to redeem our memories. What then are our memories? How do they define us? How do might they be redeemed if needed? These are the questions that define the book.
Tygrett divides the book into twelve chapters. He begins the book with a chapter that invites us to remember how we got to be where we are and then find ways of narrating these memories. We move from there to a chapter on noticing shells (memories), then one on living with these shells, and then in chapter four, we ponder the weight of the shells we have collected. This is where the question of redemption emerges. After each of the first three chapters, Tygrett invites us to engage in a practice. In chapter one we are invited to practice narrating our memories. In chapter two he encourages us to take up journaling and gives instructions as to how to do this. And so on from there. After chapter four, he invites us to pause and sit with a memory and ask what God would say to it.
In chapter 5, Tygrett reminds us that every memory belongs and at the end of the chapter instructs us on how to write a spiritual autobiography. As noted earlier, he weaves the biblical story in with his own story, so as to model what he would have us do. From there he continues with chapters that explore ways of bringing forth memories, dealing with them and finding what they say to us about who we are. As I am deeply interested in any conversation related to the Eucharist/Lord's Table, I was especially intrigued by chapter 9, titled "A Familiar Table." In this chapter, he brings together a series of stories of hospitality, both those he has experienced, and those that are connected to Jesus. He speaks of the open table in ways that I found helpful in my own reflections on the table, reminding us that when Jesus gathered at Table, he included people like Judas and Thomas, among others. So, he notes that "when Jesus breaks the bread, he invites us to acknowledge that both the beautiful and the brutal memories belong." Then he writes a few paragraphs later that "When Jesus breaks the bread and lets the light shine on the faces of those who were the first to follow and the first to abandon, we are invited into a greater drama where our acts of brokenness or our experiences of being broken by others are brought into sacred space." (p. 155). Chapters ten and eleven take us into the future, using Revelation to guide our thoughts as to where memories will take us. In the final chapter titled "A Closing Post-It Note," Tygrett seeks to tie the memories together. He writes that "the fruit of our memories is that there is something of value in the path that stretches behind us. Redeeming our memories and living out a new script in the present is the most precious thing we can pass on" (p. 192).
The point of the book, using the metaphor of the shells, concerns the nature of these shells we’ve collected. These shells help define our identity, but some of then must be set aside. Other shells will be carried with us. Some are celebrated and some must be redeemed.
When it comes to reading the book, I wasn't sure what to make of the book as I opened it. For one thing, covers with pastel colors don’t necessarily grab me. It had the look of a spiritual self-help book, which I again shy away from. Nonetheless, I picked it up not knowing if I would finish it. After all, I tend to favor heavier theology and history books. When I finished reading the book, I was able to say I enjoyed it. The message it conveys is a good one. I think it could offer encouragement and even a path to healing of those who struggle with their own past. It is written for a general Christian audience, though I do believe that pastors and those who offer counseling to people dealing with the past will also find it helpful. In the end, I give it a hearty recommendation.