My eclectic, and somewhat eccentric, musical tastes are firmly stuck in the past. A collection of digitally remastered CD’s of songs I once had on vinyl (or cassette tape). My music library is stacked with Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Meatloaf, and Jethro Tull. Recently, I listened to Ian Anderson, on Jethro Tull’s 1969 album, singing, ‘Living in the Past’
I recall preaching a sermon with the title, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future” This profound adage is not a text from the bible - though it certainly encapsulates the biblical message of grace, forgiveness and new starts. Neither is it from my own wise storehouse of adages, or brought to you with all the gravitas and sophistication of Shakespeare, or even the philosophical existential musings of Sartre. No. It is confidently asserted by the parish priest in that great Whoopi Goldberg film, Sister Act 1.
My sermon had been based the context of some words from the Old Testament book of Isaiah: ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?’
Words that seemed to say ‘forget the past’. Yet, there are past memories that bring us pleasure Personally I like looking back on family events. Looking back at the photographs of our children when they were younger. Being reminded of holidays, birthdays, recalling the silly and recalling the happy, I look back on the girl I met 44 years ago, and give thanks that we are still spending our life together. There are many things not to forget.
And if I look back on my own past, I see the mistakes as well as the successes, the pains as well as the joys, the highlights as well as the regrets and low points. Though it took many years before I realized the fact that no amount of regretting can change the past.
If not careful we can find ourselves to be trapped by living in the past, to be caged in by self- condemnation, the snare of mistakes, pains, and old failures. I once asked someone why they were so stuck in the past memories and pains of something traumatic that had happened in their life many years ago. It almost seemed as if they still freshly relived the pain every day. I wanted to know why they couldn’t let go, why they couldn’t stop living under the condemnation of the past and move on? Because, they told me, they had lived in that painful past so long – they wouldn’t know who they were if they moved on, they would be a new person, a different person, and that unknown future frightened them more than the known past could ever do.
Of course, the past isn’t just about regrets. How easy it is to live in past success, especially if viewed through rose tinted spectacles. The words from Isaiah, however, don’t say pretend the past doesn’t exist, or erase all traces of it. What they say is, don’t live (dwell) there.
Enjoy the past, learn from it, be built up by it, but don’t be trapped by it. Keep the past as a place to visit but don’t go building a second home there. Last week, at Easter, we looked back 2000 years. Looking back just a few days to Easter As I write this we are preparing for Easter. Two thousand years to a cross, followed by an empty tomb, declared a message that is our present and future, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future”.