In his book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks tells the story of Jimmie, a former sailor, now a patient in a nursing home, whose severe neurological disorder had left him with a profound and permanent amnesia. He simply had no memory of anything from 1945 on.
Having no ability to retrieve the past and no ability to construct a meaningful present, Jimmie lacked the continuity that makes for a sense of the self. He was, wrote Sacks, a person who “wore a look of infinite sadness and resignation.”
However, when Sacks asked the Sisters who ran the nursing home whether Jimmie had lost his soul, the Sisters were outraged by the question. “Watch Jimmie in the chapel,” they said, “and judge for yourself.”
So Sacks did watch Jimmie in the chapel, and there he observed an astounding transformation. He saw an intensity and steadiness in Jimmie that he had not observed before. As he received the sacrament of the Eucharist, there was “perfect alignment of his spirit with the spirit of the Mass.”
There in worship, Jimmie was no longer at the mercy of a faulty and fallible memory. “He was wholly held, absorbed ….” He whose mind was broken was given in worship, “a continuity and a unity so seamless it could not permit any break.”
Jimmie in his own way is like all of us. In the final analysis, none of us is able to construct a self. We must all be given a story and a continuity not of our own making. Where we have no faithful memory, God remembers, and by the grace of God, the Spirit whispers the lyrics of the saving gospel in our ears.
Thanks to Thomas Long for sharing this story.
During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, what have YOU missed the most about not being able to worship God in a church? Why do you say that?
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