449

When Memory Fades

Scripture References

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Difficult times occur in the lives and communities of God’s people because this is a fallen world. The confessions demonstrate this perspective:

  • Belgic Confession, Article 15 teaches that “…by the disobedience of Adam original sin has been spread through the whole human race…a corruption of the whole human nature...” As a result, God’s people are “guilty and subject to physical and spiritual death, having become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all [our] ways” (Article 14). In addition, “The devils and evil spirits are so corrupt that they are enemies of God and of everything good. They lie in wait for the church and every member of it like thieves, with all their power, to destroy and spoil everything by their deceptions” (Article 12).
  • Our World Belongs to God continues to affirm that “God has not abandoned the work of his hands,” nevertheless “our world, fallen into sin, has lost its first goodness...” (paragraph 4). And now “all spheres of life—family and friendship, work and worship school and state, play and art—bear the wounds of our rebellion” (paragraph 16).

Yet, in a fallen world, God’s providential care is the source of great assurance, comfort and strength. Through these thoughts, our trust in God is inspired.

  • Belgic Confession, Article 13 is a reminder that God’s providence reassures us that God leads and governs all in this world “according to his holy will…nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.” Further, this Confession identifies that this “gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father, who watches over us with fatherly care...in this thought we rest.”
  • Belgic Confession, Article 13, is a reminder that much is beyond human understanding and so “we do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what God does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend.”
  • In Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 9, Question and Answer 26 we testify that we “trust God so much that [we] do not doubt that he will provide whatever [we] need for body and soul and will turn to [our] good whatever adversity he sends upon [us] in this sad world.”
  • In Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 10, Question and Answer 28, we are assured that through our trust in the providence of God we can have “good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from his love.”
  • When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask not to be brought into the time of trial but rescued from evil. In doing so we ask that the Lord will “uphold us and make us strong with the strength of your Holy Spirit so that we may not go down to defeat in this spiritual struggle...” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 52, Question and Answer 127)

Belgic Confession, Article 26 speaks about the intercession of Christ as the ascended Lord. “We have no access to God except through the one and only Mediator and Intercessor, Jesus Christ the Righteous.” We, therefore, do not offer our prayers as though saints could be our intercessor, nor do we offer them on the “basis of our own dignity but only on the basis of the excellence and dignity of Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is ours by faith.” Because Jesus Christ is our sympathetic High Priest, we approach the throne “in full assurance of faith.”

 

No greater assurance can be found than that expressed in Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1, Question and Answer 1: “I am not my own by I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”

 
In all difficult times, we eagerly await the final day when God “will set all things right, judge evil, and condemn the wicked” (Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 57).

449

When Memory Fades

Introductory/Framing Text

More than 5 million Americans suffer directly from Alzheimer’s disease; an additional 50 to 60 million additional family members struggle with the emotional, financial, physical, and spiritual stresses of caring for loved ones who are so afflicted. I wrote the hymn text "When Memory Fades" as a pastoral response to this situation. I intended it specifically for a very dear friend whose mother was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and whose father, as the primary caregiver, was growing increasingly frail himself.
 
The first stanza of the text opens with images of the way Alzheimer’s begins to make its presence known in the person with the disease: in a fading memory, faltering recognition, dimming eyes. The fourth line of the stanza notes the corollary impact on friends and family members who look on helplessly, "by pain and fear abused," to see their loved ones so afflicted. Yet, the stanza affirms the deep theological truth that through all such changes, Love Itself "never alters." As Paul says (1 Corinthians 13:8), "Love never fails"—because love is part of the life of God, and in God there is ultimately no perishing or wasting away. The first stanza closes with a prayer for "patient courage," for the peace and healing so sorely needed by those affected by the tragic course of Alzheimer’s disease.
 
Stanza two of the hymn moves to speak of those whose aging brings not a lessening of memory, but a general wearying from having labored at earthly tasks—including the tasks of caregiving—for so many years. While the resultant "frailness" may not be as catastrophic as the debilitation of Alzheimer’s disease, such "waning" in formerly-vigorous people can still be distressing to witness. Yet, part of the mysterious will of God is that, if we are spared the tragedy of early death, we will all age and weaken ("All flesh is grass," says 1 Peter 1:24, echoing Isaiah 40:6). So, while we grieve to see our loved ones moving closer to the ends of their earthly lives, we also rejoice to affirm that beneath us, unwearying, are God’s everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27).
 
The closing stanza of this hymn makes a turn, as do so many of the lament psalms before it, to express hope for the ways in which God’s providential care sustains us through the challenges of Alzheimer’s and aging. While our human memories fade, some of them devastatingly, God’s memory is "unfading." While we ache for the restoration of a former state of health that seems gone forever, in God’s time-outside-of-time, "the past and future mingle into one." "All joys remain"; however transitory they may seem to us, all "valued deeds"—all moments of beauty, all acts of kindness—are taken up into the mind and heart of God. As the process theologians remind us, whatever becomes part of the life of God is, thereby, imperishable. Held within this life, though we and our loved ones will eventually die, yet shall we live.
I wrote the text with the tune FINLANDIA in mind.
 
This is probably the best-received of any of the hymns I have written. Since Alzheimer’s disease is nearing epidemic proportions in our country, it is hard to find anyone whose life has not been touched in some way by the challenges of living with, caring for, or remaining in communication with a loved one whose memory is fading from dementia—from what some have come to term "the long goodbye."
— Mary Louise Bringle
449

When Memory Fades

Tune Information

Name
FINLANDIA
Key
E♭ Major
Meter
11.10.11.10.11.10
449

When Memory Fades

Hymn Story/Background

In 1899 Finnish composer Jean Sibelius wrote a musical score for six historical tableaux in a pageant that celebrated and supported the Finnish press against Russian oppression. In 1900, Sibelius revised the music from the final tableau into FINLANDIA, a tone poem for orchestra. The chorale-like theme that emerges out of the turbulent beginning of this tone poem became the hymn tune.
 
FINLANDIA was first used as a hymn tune in the Scottish Church Hymnary (1927) and the Presbyterian Hymnal (1933). The melody features several repeated and varied melody lines. It is clearly an instrumental tune, but with diligent leadership by organists, congregations can sing the various cadential tones to their proper length. Because of the long lines, accompanists must work to keep the tempo moving. The tune is a glorious setting for harmony singing by choirs. This tune is also often set to the hymn text of Katharina Von Schlegel, "Stille, mein Wille, dein Jesus hilft siegen" ("Be Still, My Soul, The Lord Is On Thy Side").
— Bert Polman

Author Information

Mary Louise (Mel) Bringle (b. 1953) is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies and chair of the Humanities Division at Brevard College (Brevard, NC). A teacher at heart and a theologian by training (with a Ph.D. from Emory University and an assortment of publications in pastoral theology), she began writing hymn texts in 1999. Since that time, she has won a number of international hymnwriting competitions and been featured as an "emerging text writer" by The Hymn Society in the US and Canada. GIA Publications, Inc. has published two single-author collections of her hymns (Joy and Wonder, Love and Longing in 2002, and In Wind and Wonder in 2007), as well as anthems written in collaboration with composers like William Rowan, Sally Morris, and others. Her texts and translations are included in publications from numerous denominations, including Roman Catholic, Mennonite, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Episcopalian, United Church of Canada, and Church of Scotland. She has previously served as President of The Hymn Society and was chair of the committee for Glory to God (Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, 2013).
— GIA Publications, Inc. (http://www.giamusic.com)

Composer Information

Jean Sibelius (b. Hameenlina, Tavastehus, Finland, 1865; Jarvenpaa, near Helsingfors, Finland, 1957) began music studies on the piano, then violin, and at one time thought of becoming a concert violinist. But he began composing at the age of ten, and his later career in music was primarily in composition. Finland's most famous composer, Sibelius used native mythology and geography in his composition, which became a rallying point for Finland's nationalism and patriotism. In 1897 the government awarded him a pension for life for his contribution to his country. From 1900 until the outbreak of World War I he traveled extensively in Europe, often as conductor of his own works. In 1914 he visited the United States, where he was a popular conductor, and where he received an honorary degree from Yale University and taught briefly at the New England Conservatory in Boston. He did not compose during the last twenty-six years of his life. Sibelius is known especially for his symphonic music, but he also composed many songs and theater music, as well as music for piano and chamber ensembles. His only compositions for devotional use are Five Christmas Songs (1895-1913) and "You Are Mighty, a Lord" (1927) for mixed choir.
— Bert Polman
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