What Makes You Look Back: Old First E-pistle 05.31.13

What Makes You Look Back: Old First E-pistle 05.31.13

I have been reminded recently how one can wish to turn back the hands of time. Or go back to when…

Life doesn’t quite work that way, of course, but there are times when one’s past — remembering, reliving, rethinking, reworking — can provide great solace. There are other times when falling for the temptation is an unhelpful complication or, worse, a unhealthy diversion…

One of Julie’s favorite songs promises “we are marching in the light of God.” Let’s hope so! But we are also moving ahead in the shadow of time. Certainly, what goes around comes around, and sometimes we come back again to where we started. But still, the onward march of the calendar and the ultimate limit on our days, those are inescapable realities as well.

I’ve spent some time this week thinking about Bible stories wherein people are desiring a situation or relation they had earlier. Why were they looking back? And was their backward orientation, even if for just a moment, helpful or harmful?

I’ve always assumed Adam and Eve must have been, at least sometimes, nostalgic for the Garden of Eden. And we know the Israelites “lost” in the wilderness longed for the fleshpots of Egypt. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem from Moab with Ruth after the death of her husband and sons. And the Prodigal Son abandoned what turned out to be the folly of his independence for home and the security of his father’s love. The disciples at the end of John’s Gospel go back to fishing (before they bump into the risen Christ).

It’s interesting to note when and, in so much as one can tell, why one is feeling a desire for the past. For me lately, it has been in part the simple recognition that time really passes. Once you’ve lived long enough, you begin to become aware of some distinct and closed chapters of your life. What is done is often gone. There can be a grief in that. And a desire to revisit.

I recognize how my life and I and my ways of looking at the world were appreciably different in my 20’s than my 50’s. Sometimes, I wish I could again experience the hopefulness of having so much of my life uncharted and before me.

Other times, my sense of loss or longing can be more focused. For example, when I sometime would like to sit and talk with friends who I will never see again (at least in this life). Or I desire to hold one of my kids as a baby. Or have one of those awakening moments that don’t happen the same way when one is older. I also know longing for a place or situation that’s no longer accessible to me, the neighborhood I grew up in. I hear this in others too: people gone from our lives or a career that’s now finished and done.

It seems that in both those cases, the longing is not only understandable. But it can be entertained and explored. God has given us memories so that time, even death, do not erase. In fact, remembering can be solace. It can also be good ground for fertile reflection, insight and learning for carrying forward.

I also know a longing for the past that arises when my present is particularly uncertain. One can even find oneself wishing to go back to an imperfect past… it turns out, there’s still comfort in familiarity.

And if not knowing what to do next is reason enough for an evasive looking backwards, even more, I find I get nostalgic sometimes as a way of ducking the challenges or responsibilities of the present moment.

Wasn’t that the issue with the Israelites hunger for Egyptian fleshpots? Sometimes I hear people fool themselves that being a youngster again would be an option: it’s “the teenage dream” we spin when we wish for a lightened load on our shoulders.

I have decided my moment of nostalgia was ok. Even understandable. I could risk it, even indulge it. Maybe even glean something from it, trying to figure out what about my present was leaving me with a longing for the past. Or what from my past needs to be summoned into my present or carried into the future. That freedom I gave myself was because I decided I wasn’t trying to duck some current situation or responsibility.

What makes you look back? Is that longing one of the many perspectives from which you can be reflective about your life? Or is it a dodge? Or maybe a little of both…

Sometimes we need a moment — and it’s perfectly fine to give yourself the time and space– before we can turn back towards the demands of today and the uncertainties of the future stretching out before us. In this sense, the longing for the past, can be a sabbath of sorts from the incessant movement through the days, weeks and years. It just ought not be our tack to evade the work God has before us.

See you in church,

Michael