Spiritual Dementia

Last weekend, following my weekly Friday night prayer at the Buffalo Chip rodeo, I came home to find Donna watching the end of a favorite movie: The Notebook.

Have you seen it? It tells the story of an older couple who live in a nursing home. She’s there because she has senile dementia. He’s there because that’s were she is. When their children try to persuade him to leave and come back home, he says to them, “As long as she’s here, I’m not leaving. Wherever she is, that’s my home.”

Each morning he leaves his nearby room in order to spend the day with her. She doesn’t recognize him, thinking instead that he is only a visitor who has come to read her a story.

In fact, he does read her a story: it is the story of their life together. She wrote it herself when she knew her memory was beginning to fade. Near the end of the movie we see the title page of the notebook from which he has been reading. Written in her own hand: “The story of our lives. Read this to me and I’ll always come back.”

As he reads to her the story of their youthful courtship, she hears it only as an interested observer. But finally, she lights up with recognition: “Wait a minute! That story is about us, isn’t it?”

And so, for five blissful minutes they dance to their favorite song and reminisce about their lives together. Before long, however, clarity fades and confusion returns. 

Horrified at the “stranger” in her arms, she pushes him away, screams for help, and returns to her previously oblivious state. The palpable pain on her husband’s face is difficult to watch.

Many thoughts and feelings crossed my mind while watching the movie with Donna. I considered how refreshing it is to see the mature love of older people portrayed on film. I thought, too, of what a blessing it is to spend your whole life loving another person, and how grateful I am to grow old with my own “first love.”

But I also couldn’t help but see the story as a parable of my own relationship with God. In my mind’s eye I imagined Jesus coming to visit me every day, patiently telling me the story of his love for me and of our life together.

Too often I hear it only as an interesting tale about someone else. But there are glimpses of sanity when it becomes clear to me: “Wait a minute! That’s not just any story, that’s our story!”

For a few brief but beautiful moments we dance like they did in the movie, I in the joy of knowing whose I really am, and Jesus in the joy of his beloved's awakening. Like the writer of John’s gospel, I begin to see the truth about myself: I am “the disciple whom Jesus loves.”

That’s why I crave weekly times of corporate worship, and daily moments of private worship. I need to hear the story of God’s love for me over and over, for otherwise I develop spiritual amnesia, and end up pushing myself out of the arms of my Beloved, and into a state of confusion and fear.

Chances are, you are a lot like me. Let us do ourselves a favor. Let us gather together every Sunday to hear the story of the One whose love for us is without limit. 

The One who dries our tears, as he did for Mary in the garden. 

The One who calms our fears, as he did for the disciples on Easter evening. 

The One who dispels our doubts, as he did for dubious Thomas. 

The One who forgives our failures, as he did for Peter on the seashore. 

And the One who made such an impression that a certain writer never forgot that he was "the disciple whom Jesus loved."

Remember, that’s not just any story; that’s our story. As our best defense against spiritual dementia, it’s a story worth hearing over and over — and over again.