Looking Back for the Sake of the Future

I am writing this as we approach the anniversary of the first nationwide coronavirus lockdown and the holding of the first “National Day of Reflection”.  Obviously, by the time you read this, that particular day will be over, but I sincerely hope that the idea of us pausing to reflect once in a while will endure. 

You may have heard of “Mindfulness” and its rise in popularity over recent years.  Its proponents encourage us to focus upon the present moment.  The past, they say, is over, and the future is yet to come, so we must give our energies to living in the “now”.  They try to enlist Leo Tolstoy as an advocate of their worldview, quoting him as saying,

“Remember then: there is only one time that is important – now!  It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.”

Leo Tolstoy

Put like this, it is hard to argue about the primary importance of the present moment.  And yet, it is surely not as simple as abandoning all consideration of either the past or the future.  In her book, “Murder in the Bastille”, the author Cara Black observes,

“The past informs the present.
Memory makes the map we carry, no matter how hard we try to erase it.” 

Cara Black

This is important.  Whatever attempts we take to live “in the now”, that “now” is irrevocably shaped by the past.  Not only that, but our understanding of and approach to this “now” are equally conditioned by our past.  We simply cannot ignore this.  We might desperately want to sing with Princess Elsa from Disney’s blockbuster film, Frozen, “The past is in the past,” but we cannot escape the fact that the past has formed our present.

I don’t know what the past looks like for you, but I am confident that you and I share some of the same experiences of the last year.  I have found myself under more pressure than normal, I haven’t seen my wider family for months and I have lost a friend to the virus.  I have become rather fastidious about washing my hands immediately after bringing in the post each morning and am holding seemingly countless meetings over Zoom (other providers of video-call technology are available).  There are a lot of people who have been furloughed or made redundant and/or are facing financial challenges.  Loneliness has increased, and there is a national mental health crisis looming (if it is not already here). 

But of course, it has not all been bad.  We have seen a resurgence in community spirit that had perhaps dissipated over recent years.  Erstwhile hidden areas of inequality have been exposed and may now be given proper attention by those with the responsibility to do so.  We have, to some extent, learned afresh what really matters for human flourishing.

It seems to me that proper reflection over the past is invaluable.  As we pause to remember the past we cannot change, we may learn how to act wisely now to create a better future.

This Easter, may you know the peace and joy of the risen Lord Jesus, who is the same, yesterday, today and forever.