Patterns of Reminding
If you have never read Wendell Berry, or worse, never heard of him, stop reading this blog this very moment and go to your nearest local bookstore to buy his stuff up before your neighbor snags all the goods first.
Mr. Berry is a farmer and a writer and a poet and an advocate of economic justice and the deep and intimate care of community and creation.
He’s delightfully ornery and that’s why I like him.
Wendell Berry has stumbled on a phrase that I like a lot: a “pattern of reminding.” He uses it in several places and ways, but always yoked to the importance of community, as he does in the essay “The Work of Local Culture.” Here, he writes:
It does no good for historians, folklorists, and anthropologists to collect the songs and the stories and the lore that comprise local culture and store them in books and archives. They cannot collect and store, because they cannot know the pattern of reminding that can survive only in the living human community in its place. It is this pattern that is the life of the local culture, and that brings it usefully or pleasurably to mind. Apart from its local landmarks and occasions, the local culture may be the subject of curiosity or of study, but it is also dead.
In other words, to state the obvious, culture is alive only when it is lived.
His words are no broadside against museums or libraries or archives of any sort.
They are, though, a rail against simply caching the essence of a community, stuffing the stories and songs in a memory box never to be opened, the treasures never to be touched, hiding them away like any of us might place something important in a spot so secure that we forget not only where it is but that we’ve even put it there.
I’ve been thinking about worship, in light of Berry’s words.
I get that some people—people of faith, I’m talking about here—don’t like going to church so very much or often. “Sunday Morning Worship at St. Mattress” and all.
I get the Christmas and Easter crew.
I get that there are reasons why congregational worship can be a drag, a bother, an imposition.
I really do.
But then Berry steps in and speaks about the importance of this pattern of reminding.
I think his words speak to why communal worship is worth a conversion from St. Mattress to St., well, Wherever You Could Go To Church.
Turns out that the word “pattern” comes from the same root as the word “patron,” and meant, originally, “something serving as a model.”
A model, of course, is an example, a way of doing things.
That is, in the original sense, a pattern need not be rigid. It is a theme, however, a template, a blueprint…a reminder of a common motif.
When people of faith come together, we remember our shared pattern. We recall our collected motifs, we draw together the threads that weave through us all.
So to boot, these songs and stories and rituals remind us that our faith isn’t just ours, nor is it just about us.
Instead, God has a pattern of being in the world by way of loving the outcasts, calling out the oppressors, soothing the hurt, transforming the old, and making things new. It’s a communal thing, a joint effort, a way of being within and also beyond ourselves.
The fact is, it is very easy to forget who and whose we are when we, for the bulk of any given week, are surrounded by the overriding patterns of stress, and fear, and materialism, and despair, and fatigue, and self-preservation.
Gathering together reminds us of an alternative, distinct, organic culture patterned by the claim that we are People of God with history and heritage and that it, and we, are alive.
One quick but important thing: patterns need not be dull. There are infinite numbers of variations on a theme to spice things up, subtle tweaks that begin a new pattern within the pattern.
That is, the kinds of patterns found on this link are just icky.
I’m not talking about these kinds of patterns.
(Yikesies. Who was in charge in the 70s? Who let these nice people wear such things?)
I’m talking about patterns–by way of rituals, readings, music–that remind us of solidarity, of hope, of compassion, of life of a community that is worthy of being re-membered.
Check out a place of worship near you, and discover a new pattern in your life.