Valuing the past
A FRIEND of mine had a problem; she was unhappy, even depressed. I reminded her of something particularly pleasant that had occurred in her life not long before. She shrugged it off almost angrily. ``That's gone,'' she said. ``What good is it now? I'm only interested in what is going on right now-- and what's going on right now is terrible.'' But it isn't ``gone,'' I thought. Of course, in one sense she was right. We can't escape from present difficulties by retreating into a pleasant past. Escapism is never the answer. On the other hand, many seem not to know how to value the past, how to enjoy it in the present. As Whittier expressed it: That all of good the past hath had Remains to make our own time
To see that the past can be appreciated in the present, without our dwelling selfishly on bygone years or daydreaming about them, is a step toward valuing the past correctly. For indeed the good associated with the past can be seen to be inseparable from our present consciousness of things. Good is permanent, because its source is God.
Eternity knows only now, but to the human sense of things, life is made up of past, present, and future. Our need is to cultivate, through prayer and purification of thought, more of that spiritual sense of things which discerns the permanency of good. We can't do that if we're living in the past, or fearing the future, or indulging in wishful thinking that the future will, in some magic way, be better than the present.
The Bible says, ``That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.''2 Doesn't this indicate that with God there is no time; that the divine Mind is conscious only of eternity? We can become conscious of eternal good now, through prayer, and begin to see that the good of what we call our past can't, in the truest sense, be lost.
Older people are sometimes chided for wistfully reminiscing. This can indeed become an insidious habit. Perhaps even worse, however, would be contempt for the past--failing to see that its goodness and beauty express something of eternal good, which belongs to the present. Sometimes a beautiful memory will brighten a gloomy day and ``make our own time glad.'' Living in the past is one thing; appreciating it is quite another.
Even the sad or unpleasant happenings of the past have their benefits. We are instructed by them, and that instruction, if heeded, can enrich our character. We can come to see evil as having no reality in God's sight and as no part of our actual consciousness or history as God's likeness.
``Now'' is indeed ``the accepted time.''3 But now is a much more inclusive term than is generally realized. It includes our consciousness of the good expressed in prior years, of lessons learned that have made us wiser and more compassionate. And the hope for the future, the faith in the unseen good to come, is also very much a part of now. The now of eternity knows no strivings, no mistakes, no sorrows; it includes only perfect bliss. But any human sense of the present is imperfect and needs to be purified through the growing understanding of God's eternal now and of our actual selfhood as the spiritual image of God.
In her metaphysical interpretation of the term day, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes: ``The objects of time and sense disappear in the illumination of spiritual understanding, and Mind measures time according to the good that is unfolded. This unfolding is God's day, and `there shall be no night there.'''4
We need not fear, then, in time of trouble. But we might well remember the ``good the past hath had'' and have faith that not only does the present include it but the future includes it too.
1John Greenleaf Whittier, The Chapel of the Hermits. 2Ecclesiastes 3:15. 3See II Corinthians 6:2. 4Science and Health, p. 584. DAILY BIBLE VERSE I will resotre to you the years that the locust hath eaten . . . Joel 2:25