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On Faith: The importance of remembering

This season of the year is filled with occasions of remembrance. Many have wedding anniversaries or family reunions that look back to important events or people; community festivals like Heritage Days, coming up in July, hold up the legacy of our past; and the three national holidays we observe over the summer — Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day — all call to mind people or events of the past that we share as a national community.

The importance of spending time remembering together as a nation was highlighted for me this past spring, when my husband and I traveled to Washington, D.C. for a vacation. One of the highlights was a tour of the Pentagon, arranged by our brother-in-law, an Army Reserve chaplain. With this assortment of summer national holidays surrounding us, I find it meaningful to consider our experience there, as I don't often come into contact with military people or activities, truth be known.

There were a lot of people at the Pentagon, some in uniform, some in business clothing, all of them friendly, courteous and professional. That in itself impressed me. My brother-in-law took us to the office of the chief of chaplains for the Army, a priest who is also a two-star general. He was away, but we were allowed into his office, which included a display of St. Martin of Tours — the patron saint of chaplains and the source of the term "chaplain."

Legend has it that Martin, a young nobleman in what is now Hungary, was born around 300 A.D. As a young soldier, Martin encountered a beggar in Amiens. The beggar was unclothed and it was very cold. Martin removed his cape and with his sword, he cut it in half. He gave this half to the beggar and dressed himself in the remnant.

That night, Martin had a vision in which Christ appeared to him. The vision spoke to him: "Martin, in clothing the beggar, you clothed me." From that time on, Martin was a devout Christian and spent his life in service to the poor.

The word for "cape" in Latin evolved into the term "chaplain" in English. Chaplains, whether in the military, in a prison or in a nursing home, have a particular ministry to those who are in special need or circumstances. Realizing the long history of this kind of ministry and the difference it has made to so many, was powerful for us.

Likewise, seeing the 911 Memorial at the Pentagon was also a powerful experience. There is a Memorial Chapel and an outdoor memorial. The latter consists of numerous concrete benches — a bench of concrete over a small, narrow reflecting pool, for each of those who died on that day at the Pentagon. Each bench bears the name of a victim on the end of it, and some of the reflecting pools had flowers floating in them, as family members likely left flowers for their loved one. I suspect that on this past Memorial Day, each reflecting pool was filled with floating flowers — an image both beautiful and somber.

As we celebrate these summer national holidays, we would do well to appreciate those who have served us through civic or governmental work, especially those who have lost their lives in such endeavors. They remain an inspiration to us, and they are not forgotten.

Remembering those who bless us through their willingness to serve is a significant way in which we honor them and aspire to do likewise!

"On Faith" is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders. Pastor Susan Berge serves at Knife River Lutheran Church and lives in Duluth.