Mercy liberated me to remember. There was a vast hoard of history in the catacombs of my soul; a myriad of memories which I had pronounced dead and consigned to the realm of “forgetting.” But the business of burying shame proved tricky, because while you might achieve momentary amnesia, the memories are nevertheless still buried beneath your everyday life, haunting the illusion of your “wholesome” home. And not all the memories dispatched to the catacombs are ugly …I had sent a number of beautiful moments into the darkness of “forgetting” only to find my soul clamoring to reclaim them; but the reclaiming is impermisible because penance and comparison demand that joy be put to death, and the fear of the accuser incessantly threatens charges of fraudulence and failure.
But when Mercy made her abode with me, she unlocked the catacombs without any regard for the blackmail of the accuser, or the demons of shame. She boldly and benevolently took me beneath the floor boards of my “reputable respectable life,” and with her piercing yet soft lamp of truth showed me that there was no condemnation in my subterranean cemetery as I had supposed. I had avoided the catacombs of remembrance for decades, because I feared having to reckon with my criminal record (the crushing incrimination of my evil, and my memories of unearned joy), but instead what I found was honest references to my wretchedness with promises of resurrection! Mercy made me steward of a mystery …there was indeed death, but the hope against hope guarantee of resurrection eclipsed the curse, and commendation supplanted condemnation. The accuser was defeated by the superseding work of the Atoner & Advocate.
Even so, I discovered that this newfound freedom takes some getting used to. The liberty to look at the shameful scenes of my story isn’t like the crushing affliction of a criminal record, but it is nevertheless a solemn referencing of something weighty and raw. It’s a slow-going sort of thing, and a major facet of receiving Mercy’s liberty is thoroughly participating in the unhurried process of sifting, parsing, and imaginatively inhabiting the memories. I found the process to be like hiking a mountain range (there is simply no instant way to go about it …distance, elevation, altitude, terrain, weather, etc. make it an arduous process). But it is amidst the rigors we discover the deepest assurance of our Author’s affection, and in the thick of it all we acquire a taste for what’s truly substantial.
Without a doubt the highest peak in the entire range was “Mt. Joseph;” and something about slogging through those first few years of famine prompted me to seriously set my sights on summiting that formidable memory. Famine has a way of forcing a person to face hard truths, and it also has a way of producing perseverance through constant curiosity. For instance, when the famine compelled us to make our first food run to Egypt, there was certainly something curious about the mannerisms, and deeper appearance, of the regal administrative official we encountered. Though subtle, it was this sort of thing that often kept me moving on the memory of Mt. Joseph. And especially his words, “You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you,” triggered something fierce in me (making my moment of exposure with Tamar feel like a mere sand dune). For months afterwards, those words, “Unless your brother is with you,” hijacked my thoughts. When it became clear that the famine would linger, and a return trip to Egypt was inevitable, I resolved – while still trekking up the memory of Mt. Joseph – to substitute my life for Rachel’s second born. I’m not saying I knew for a fact that it would certainly come to that, but something in the countenance of that Egyptian lord convinced me that his adamance about our youngest brother was immutable. When I pledged myself to the safekeeping of Benjamin the memory of selling Joseph flashed like a bolt of lightening, and it was as if the very memory of that shameful moment forged in fire my commitment to be substitute for Ben. It was a reversal of my first timshel (thou mayest); I had resolutely sold Rachel’s firstborn into slavery, and now I resolutely pledged myself substitute for her second.