God spread out a cloud as a covering, and a fire to give light at night. They asked, and God brought them quail; God fed them well with the bread of heaven. – Psalm 105:39-40 (NIV adapted)
The psalmist paints a beautiful picture of 40 years in the wilderness. God is the beneficent provider, freely giving the people what they need. Bread, meat, water, light in the nighttime and shade in the day. It comes off as a sort of all-inclusive backpacking trip across the Arabian Peninsula.
Buuuuuuuut, the psalmist is conveniently forgetting some things. That “light at night”? It was a huge pillar of fire. Those quails? At one point God said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Oh, you want quail, do you? I’ll give you so much quail it will be coming out of your noses!” That’s from Numbers 11 for those keeping score at home. The psalmist seems to have forgotten all about the “quail-out-of-your-noses” part and also seems to be dramatically overstating how comforting a pillar of fire would be as a night light.
This is the blessing of memory. I look over photos of my infant daughter and I remember the good stuff, forgetting I was running on no sleep and up to my nose in diapers. I look over photos from high school and I remember the good stuff, forgetting the awkwardness and the soap opera-esque social drama.
Don’t get me wrong, the awkwardness and diapers still very much occurred … but it takes effort to remember that. The good stuff comes automatically. I don’t know why memory works this way, but I am grateful that it does. The longer I live, the more my life looks like a gift beyond measure.
Which, of course, it is.
God, thank you for the gift of memory.
John Edgerton is Lead Pastor at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.