Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong. That is your oath.
And then Godfrey strikes Balian's face with the back of his hand, and says, "And that's so you remember it." Later in the movie, Balian gives the same charge to others, with great effect. For all who received the charge, and the slap, arose with new intentionality and inner strength.
I recalled those scenes this past Tuesday when I and dozens of other Episcopal clergy stood before the Episcopal bishop of Colorado and re-affirmed the vows we made when we were ordained to serve God, the church and the world. It is always a powerful ceremony, a vivid reminder of promises I made some twenty years ago (although there was no slapping!). I am invited to recall what it was that led, that motivated, me to take on such a role. I always leave the service re-charged, re-invigorated, re-empowered.
And I got to wondering how often we are invited to re-visit our initial passions. I often suspect, when I stand before a couple who are vowing to spend the rest of their lives together, that very few will ever repeat those vows (although they may look at their wedding albums or videos). How many will stand before friends and family (including, perhaps, their children) and renew the vows they made? It's a ceremony that is possible in many traditions. How many avail themselves of it?
But what of other pledges/vows we make? Do we go back and revisit them? Do we go back and re-commit ourselves to them? A case in point are the "Honor Codes" that students and other universities sign upon their entrance to the school. While, at DU, banners (with the signatures of new students) hang in the student center, do students look for their names on those banners and say, "I remember signing that! I re-commit myself to that Code!"
So many commitments we make, to so many things, entirely positive (at the time) that we'll never renege on those vows. But, of course, making so many, we often forget what we've promised. Or we become a bit fuzzy on the precise content of the pledges. Or we pledge only in order to "join the club", not even certain we'll ever consistently honor the promise. Initial passion/drive can often get lost when the difficulties of life, school or politics intervene. As we've seen played in the lives of public figures such as athletes or politicians -- the lure of power or money overwhelms whatever initial, more noble, purpose may have gotten them to positions of prominence in the first place.
I'm reminded that, in a box in the basement, I have recordings (cassette tapes -- anyone remember those????) of both my wedding and my ordination. Maybe it's time to pull them out and give them a listen (yes, I still have a cassette player!) as well as to look at the photos of both major events. They certainly remain in my memory, but reminders through hearing and seeing? Maybe I'll remember other reasons I made those vows -- as well as other passions and commitments they implied!
What other reminders, whether symbolic (like a slap) or real (like photos) do we have for significant commitments we've made? To teaching? To advising? To whatever life-path, or vocation, we've chosen? No answers; only questions. How will we remember them?