Learning to forget through your prayerful imagination

My monthly column on The Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom.com

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Learn to forget? Seems to me I have to first learn how to remember! Those of us past a certain age know that feeling well. So do young mothers, workaholics and anyone else who is overly busy. We all know that sinking feeling when we’ve forgotten an appointment. How many of us search for a word in the middle of a sentence, only to have it pop into our heads hours later?

Then again, there are things I would like to forget. That scary movie I saw just before bedtime. The dirty house that I have no energy to clean. The accident I had last summer that now makes taking any left turn into traffic an ordeal.

And then there are regrets, some from many years ago, that periodically remind me of pain I would like to leave behind. Saying no when I should have said yes. Talking behind a colleague’s back. Not having spent enough time with my children. Deciding not to visit my mother one last time because it was too hard, only to find out later that she had died.

It doesn’t make much sense to confess to the priest and receive reconciliation if I have no intention of letting go of the sin. Since God has already chosen to forgive me, who am I to disagree?

How can we hope to forget what we can’t forgive? How can we learn to let go of those words and actions that weigh us down and block that life-giving joy that God so wants us to receive?

Sometimes our own imaginations can provide the way when used as a form of prayer. In his famous Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius encouraged the use of one’s imagination in meditating on the life of Jesus and the saints. He encouraged people to place themselves into Gospel stories – in essence becoming the characters – and experiencing their feelings and reactions as they interacted with the Lord.

In the spirit of this kind of prayer, I imagine the following:

It was the end of the day and the sky was orange, reflecting the setting sun. The air was warm and thick, the trees laden with leaves. I am sitting on a dock by a river, swinging my feet back and forth as I listen to the water rippling by underneath. I watch a leaf drop slowly to the water only to be carried out of sight.

David Stanley Sunset Over the Rupununi
David Stanley Sunset Over the Rupununi

I turn to see a barge by the dock, filled to overflowing with rubble—pieces of wood, open crates, blocks of concrete, broken bottles, stacks of newspapers. I notice an odor rising from the barge that suggests garbage lying beneath the rubble. It is an ugly sight, marring the otherwise peaceful scene. I want to get rid of that barge. I try pushing the rim with my feet but it will not budge.

Mark Morgan 0522 Rust Barge
Mark Morgan 0522 Rust Barge

In my prayer Jesus sits down next to me on the dock. Instinctively I lean upon his shoulder and point to the barge beside us. He places his feet upon its edge and motions me to do the same. “Push,” he says and we both push hard, stretching our legs out as far as they would go. Slowly the barge moves away from the dock into the river and, caught up by the current, proceeds downstream, meandering out of sight.

As I continue to lean on the shoulder of my Lord I can feel a burden lift from my heart, placing itself on that barge as it drifts away. I look up into his face as he says to me, smiling, “It’s okay, you can let go, I have forgiven you.” Tears coming to my eyes, I thank him and kiss him on the cheek.

I repeat this exercise periodically as regrets come to mind. It reminds me that I am forgiven and I need to claim it.

Perhaps you too can sit with Jesus and push away your barge full of rubble as your way of learning to forgive and forget.

For a brief overview of Ignatian spirituality, visit http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/pray-with-your-imagination/

Copyright 2015 Susan W. Bailey

Art/Photography: Sunset Over the Rupununi, Name – David Stanley, PD/CC/SA, Flickr Creative Commons;
0522 Rust Barge, Name – Mark Morgan, PD/CC/SA, Flickr Creative Commons

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3 thoughts on “Learning to forget through your prayerful imagination

  1. I’m a big fan of FDJ too! In fact, I purchased your kitten scrapbook for my mom for her birthday, and I have the PDF for myself. We both love it!
    Thanks & God bless you!

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