Most of us have lamented, on more than one occasion, how unfortunate it is that our memory is so poor. When we hear about people that seem never to forget things, it’s hard not to be jealous. Everybody knows of an unmotivated truant who gets better grades than the sedulous student because he never forgets what the teacher says - even if he doesn‘t show up to half of the classes. It doesn’t seem fair.
But this is really only a minor part of the problem. Forgetfulness has much more to do with who we are than we think. It is one of the biggest limiting factors in our lives. Our ability to remember determines, in many ways, what we are and what we do with our lives. What we forget, on the other hand, determines in many ways how much we will be held back.
There is one particular kind of forgetfulness that is, by far, more important than all the others. It is the forgetfulness that we call birth. Unlike other kinds of forgetfulness, though, the forgetfulness at birth is evenly experienced by all of us. And, as often happens when everybody experiences something to the same degree (like breathing oxygen), we tend to ignore it.
But this is a mistake. Regardless of its universal nature, this forgetfulness can cause us a great deal of grief. If it were to disappear suddenly, our individual lives would be filled with rapture. Unconditional love would prevail. There would be no more problems of poor self-esteem. We would no longer be pre-occupied with social standing, with how we look, with how much money we make, or with all the things that we imagine will help us feel good about ourselves. Wars would cease altogether and we would be at peace with ourselves. In a word, life would be heavenly. And it would be heavenly because, in the eyes of God, we are His children and we are of great – even unimaginable – worth. The trouble is that we just don’t remember that we are.
Which is, of course, the way mortality was meant to be. Life here on earth, at least for the time being, is not intended to be heavenly. It is supposed to be a testing ground. And this forgetfulness is an important part of the test. It even has a name is some faiths. In the Judeo/Christian tradition it is called “the veil”.
The image of a veil is a fitting one. Veils hide things that are not meant to be profaned. In some cultures a women’s face is so considered. Our life before and beyond mortality – life that remains obscured and yet informs our most sacred longings – surely fits this image as well. Yet, interestingly, the Judeo/Christian veil refers specifically to one particular veil – at least it used to. That veil was the veil in the temple in Jerusalem.
There was actually more than one veil in the temple. Some of them were like curtains separating rooms and sacred places. But the one that was specifically referred to as “the veil” separated the Holy of Holies from the Inner Court. This was the most sacred place on earth. It was the place that only the High Priest could enter – and then only once a year. The New Testament refers to this veil as the katapetasmatos, or literally, “the place to draw near to heaven (or winged things)”. It is mentioned in the Epistle to the Hebrews as the focus (or anchor) of a Christ-centered life (Hebrews 6:19).
This veil is not like other veils we are used to. We can’t just remove it and expect to see clearly. Neither can we just exercise, get a good night sleep and then wake up remembering what we have forgotten for many years. The veil of forgetfulness is intended to remain with us for as long as we sojourn in mortality. And yet remarkably, there are those that manage to sense what is on the other side anyway. I’m not referring to those that have near-death experiences – going through and returning from the veil. Such cases are certainly noteworthy but they seem so remote from most of our own experience.
There is another way to understand what lies beyond – to get a glimpse of what it means to be a child of God in this life and in the eternities. This other way is through the window known as charity.
By charity I don’t mean the giving of money to the poor, or the love that we have for our family and close friends. This kind of love is one of the greatest experiences of life but it is, nonetheless, a part of this life – of mortality. It is in our genes. Charity, or the love of God, is more than this. It is the great gift of the spirit that is vouchsafed to us when we give all of our hearts to God. Through this window of charity we see and understand the great worth of each of our Father in Heaven’s children. Through this window we are filled with love for all whom we see – even, remarkably, for our enemies. When we look through this window we begin to understand just how valued we are as members of this divine family. It is only through this window that we can ever hope to get beyond the constraints of this fallen world – constraints that are necessary but inseparable from so much sadness – even to the desperate angst of existential despair.
The veil is quite misunderstood
When it is cast before the mind
But it is not the brain that worries me
As does another kind of memory
That sunders from the heart
Belief in Heaven’s pedigree
How much grief could be avoided if our criminals – even our angry neighbors and coworkers, for that matter – could somehow see through this window. Instead of trying to get a bigger boat, the family down the street might instead offer to help take care of the neighbor’s yard while they are on vacation at the lake. They wouldn’t be worrying about their own importance or their visible possessions. Instead of competing with each other at work in order to please the boss, we would already understand that we are accepted by the greatest boss of all – our Heavenly Father. Knowing this, we would spend our time being helpful to everybody – helping others get ahead.
And it is no wonder. Seeing through the veil has the effect of filling us with the love of God. Of course the opposite is sometimes more commonly seen. When we fail to look through the veil, the love of many seems to disappear. Selfishness is the opposite of this eternal perspective and one of its greatest causes is not looking through the window often enough.
But failing to look through the veil is one thing. Forgetting about the veil altogether is quite another – sort of a compounded forgetfulness. Remembering that there is a place where we can glimpse into heaven – however imperfectly – should inform every aspect of our lives. Without this anchor, we are left to find meaning any other way we can. And, sadly, there are too many people living this way, and they are easy enough to spot. Charity is missing from their lives.
What then is to be done with this global epidemic of amnesia – with this failure to understand our relationship to God? The answer is really quite simple. It is the katapetasmatos. It is the veil in the House of the Lord. It is a life focused on that window into the knowledge of the love of God and of our relationship to Him.
Let’s face it. Life doesn’t offer us free samples of self esteem. How sad it is that most of us spend a lifetime trying to feel good about ourselves. It’s so much easier to just remember what we have forgotten – what is obvious on the other side of the veil. We really are children of God.