Nostalgia may well be part of original sin. Looking to the past instead of the future can make it nearly impossible for us to know God’s presence in our lives or to live into the potential God has for us. In its kindest form nostalgia is based in gratitude for what we have been through. In its cruelest form nostalgia idealizes that which has occurred and, to our own detriment, revises the truth of our experience. Nostalgia can at times be the exact opposite of faith.
The story of the exodus of the people of Israel is, in many ways, the story of the human condition. The people are enslaved in Egypt, oppressed and harshly treated. They are rescued and led on a journey to a new and fulfilling home. On the way, however, as more hardship is experienced, the people look to the past and wish to return. They blame Moses and God for taking them away from the perceived comforts of their past. It’s a great example of how we resist growth because it means we have to change. Even if our circumstances are horrible, we sometimes refuse to open ourselves to a new way of living. The fear of the unknown causes us to cling to what has become familiar to us.
Abuse victims often marry abusers. Adult children of alcoholics often marry alcoholics. We may not like what we have gone through but we often keep choosing it. What we know is easier than venturing into something we don’t know. Nostalgia, in its lowest level, is the continued choosing of un-health and dis-ease. In order to make ourselves feel better about that on-going choice, we pretend the past was actually much better than it actually was.
Nostalgia, even in its healthiest form, also puts us in the wrong posture. The desire to get back to a time when things were better skews our vision of the present and future. If I assume the best is behind me, I’m also assuming that the present and future are less good or even evil. Jesus began his ministry inviting others to repent. The word he used means to turn around. Nostalgia has us facing the wrong way. We don’t need to go back to an older way of living or doing. That’s actually rarely even possible. We are called to move on, to continue the journey, to move ahead trusting that God didn’t stop working way back when.
When the resurrected Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, he calls her by name and she is immediately taken from a place of sadness and confusion to a place of joy. “Rabboni” (Teacher) she remarks. “He’s back,” we can hear her thinking. “We can go back to the way things were.” “Do not cling to me”, Jesus tells her. Jesus must move on and ascend to heaven. Mary, too, must move on.
The goodness of the past can be such a blessing when it is a reminder of the wonderful ways of God. The goodness of the past can become such a curse when we cling to it and limit God to that time and place. Enjoy the bright moments of the past. Relish the times when you have been at your best. But look for what is in store for you now. The best is yet to come.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Worth Stuart to be Ordained a Transitional Deacon – June 3, 11:00 am
Our seminarian, Worth Stuart, has completed his studies at Virginia Theological Seminary, and will now be ordained a Transitional Deacon on Saturday, June 3, at 11:00 am. Bishop Sloan will be here to preside and we hope you will join us for this festive occasion. The festal color is red. A reception will follow. Beginning June 12, Worth will join the staff of Holy Apostles’ in Hoover, Alabama.