Fossils of the Mind


I remembered that I have a really good memory this week. I remember things that happened many years ago and things my sisters have long forgotten. I remember riding rollercoasters at Six Flags Over Texas; and climbing pyramids at Teotihuacan, Mexico. I remember standing in total awe at Bryce Canyon and riding a horse in Glacier National Park. Some things that I remember are good and some are not so good. I’ve learned that a good memory is both a blessing and a curse, and suspect that you’ve discovered that truth as well.

Ohiopyle State Park is a wonderful place to visit in Pennsylvania. I ride my bicycle to Ohiopyle almost every week during the summer. I’ve enjoyed ice cream at the Falls Market. I’ve snapped pictures of the waterfall. I’ve taken a swim in the always-cold waters of the Youghiogheny River and I’ve meandered along paths that are cut through the woods.

I discovered a Lepidodendron fossil (at Ohiopyle) last week. Lepidodendron flourished in the once-tropical climate of Pennsylvania during the Carboniferous Period (360 to 286 million years ago).  The “scale trees” grew to heights of more than 130 feet and sported heavy trunks with 6-foot diameters. Lepidodendron are extinct now. They perished when the climate changed. But the distinctive imprint of Lepidodendron bark can still be found on fossils. The earth has a long memory. The earth has a longer memory than I do.

I suppose I could have studied the Lepidodendron fossil I found – but there were other things I wanted to do. I had never been on the “other side” of the river and I wanted to take a picture of the falls from a different angle. I climbed on rocks. I talked with people. I watched for snakes along the path – because Ohiopyle is known for its copperheads and rattlesnakes. And, when I arrived at the falls, the view was spectacular!


I’ve thought about that, many times, in the last few days. There was so much to see. God’s creation was all around me and all that I had to do was open my eyes. But, the Lepidodendron fossil was alluring. I suspect I will always be drawn to things like fossils because they remind me of times long-passed. Fossils are a way that the earth remembers its own history. Fossils are an “imprint” that the earth places on a stone – just like a memory is a “fossil” we make in our minds.

Every time something “big” happens in our lives, we create an “image” of it and we retain that “image” as a memory. We (consciously or unconsciously) make “fossils of the mind” every time something “significant” happens. And that can be good or bad because memories affect the way we look at life. Good memories support feelings of “love” and “connection” that are so important in relationships with others. Bad memories tell us we can’t “trust” others and “bond” with them. Good memories encourage us to be “open” in our relationships – while bad memories teach us that we need to be “guarded” when others draw near. Fossils are a way that the earth remembers its history for millions of years.  Memories are a way that we fossilize significant events for a lifetime.

But you will, also, notice something else if you look at this picture of the Lepidodendron fossil. The fossil has started to fade. Time and the forces of nature have worked-on this fossil and the “image” has changed. This fossil, in fact, shows us that even the earth doesn’t have a permanent memory. “Images of the past” can be washed-away with the passing of time. And God brings healing into our lives in the very same way. The passing of time can help “images of the past” to fade. God’s healing power can heal wounds, and empower us to move forward with new energy. We need to remember that even a “long memory” doesn’t have to be “permanent.” There’s a difference between “remembering the past” and allowing the past to continually shape our “today” in an unproductive way.

So, what kinds of “fossils” have you created? How do memories of the past shape your present? Do you have some “fossils” that need to fade – or even be erased – by the God who’s at work in your life?  Can you see the difference between “remembering the past” and allowing “fossils” to continue to shape your “present” in unhelpful ways?


About Wayne Gillespie

The Reverend Wayne Gillespie has served as an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for nearly 25 years. He firmly believes, as a pastor, that our primary calling in life, as Christians, is "to know Christ and the power of the resurrection." Pastor Wayne also believes that, as we come to know Christ more deeply, we can experience a higher level of intimacy and connection with God, and greatly improved relationships with those who share our lives. Pastor Wayne's blog about Christian Spirituality and Prayer can be found at: He, also, has started a blog about relationships and healing which can be found at:
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3 Responses to Fossils of the Mind

  1. Really enjoyed this post!

  2. livvy1234 says:

    The fossil of my past required me to break out away from the world for many years at a most tender time in my life: retirement. I was ready to take a look at the role I was playing since I was a young woman. I had to spend many years with myself alone to get a wider glimpse of the world instead of the narrow view I learned from those around me. Waking up is hard to do. The anesthesia was deep. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. Everything fades into traceless beginningless time. Knowing this truth requires not just logical thinking, but you have to feel it deep in your gut – so how do I want to live right now – in this moment – what is this moment – it is “enough.” I am filled with awe.

    • The anesthesia is, indeed, deep! The fossils of our past can trap us into ways of thinking that, sometimes, even surprise us. Glad to hear that you’re walking on a much better path.

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