Memorials: Sacred or Symbolic


By Kate Riney
On a day like today, filled with memories of terrifying news reports and phone calls, life-altering events and, for some, life-ending events, I meditate on the importance of memorials. Long a part of the human tradition, memorials serve as a physical marker of a moment in time, a triumph, a struggle or a loss. A memorial can serve as a simple stake in the ground, but there is a way it can become more sacred than symbolic.

Arguably the first memorial recorded in the Bible occurs when God tells the Hebrews to keep a piece of manna in a jar for future generations to remember God's faithfulness in the wilderness (Exodus 16:32—33). More than just a provision, or a symbol, God, in great wisdom, gave the Hebrews life in the midst of despair and confusion. After escaping slavery and persecution, the Hebrews now faced starvation while wandering in what seemed like an aimless route towards just a promise. God gave them food to nourish and sustain them during a painful trial of endurance. The manna was more than a symbol, it was purposeful and the manna in the jar had purpose for the generations to come. It was a memorial of sacredness, proving God values the sanctity of human life.

It occurs to me that in an age marked by terrorist attack, chemical weapons, and war profiteering, we need to see the sacredness of memorials once again. Our culture does not grieve well; mourning is avoided and truncated at all costs, but memorials are one way to give meaning and importance to the process of grieving. Days like 9/11 should not be forgotten, but more than a historic monument or a burial site, the 9/11 memorial is a place for survivors to wrestle with the chaos of life, to remember loved ones lost, and to look forward to the life that God promises.

Today, I urge you to make space for memorials in your life and to consider sacred some of those memorials which already exist for you. These are spaces where you can interact with God, recall the pain of loss and invite God into your struggle. It is also a place to remember moments of celebration, sweetness, and meaning. You can create your own memorial to put in your home in remembrance of someone you have lost or a time God has brought freedom or blessing in your life or create community memorials in your church or civic group.

Regardless of where you decide to commemorate, invite the Comforter and Peace-maker into the memories and see what God sees, see where God is in those times. Be reminded that God is in the silence and the chaos. God has not forgotten you.