As you read this note, you and I will be standing astride two separate years. Like the mythological Janus, we will be looking at the passing of time in two directions—forward and backward. (Unlike Janus, though, we are not mythological gods in charge of beginnings and endings, nor do we guard the gates of Heaven.)
This is a good thing—looking at time as more than just this moment—because both memory and foresight are gifts of immeasurable worth. Gifts worth my gratitude at this time of year.
I spend a lot of my quiet time during a day soaring over both the past and the future. Not forsaking attention to the present moment—mindful of its beauty and blessing—I enjoy moving effortlessly along time’s linear dimensions. And because history tends to repeat itself, time’s circular repetitions, too.
At this time of year especially—Christmas greetings of many kinds have filled my mailbox—I am pleasantly overwhelmed by memories of times past. The good things that occurred, the people who made life a joy, the events that became blessings. Failures, missteps, short-sighted choices as well as unexpected, undeserved fortune and well-being.
What I notice and experience also invites me into a preferred future. Not necessarily planning its dimensions, but more like imagining how it might unfold. How I can build on then-and-now to create what I hope will be coming down the line—scenarios that reach from the future back to the present moment and give it meaning.
On this day I am also aware that persistent dwelling on the half-remembered past can lead to the pleasant paralysis of nostalgia—literally, “home sickness”. On the other hand, I know how thinking about impending events inevitably encourages hand-wringing anxiety that freezes me in the stress-reactions of inaction and negativity.
Given these over-reactions, though, I don’t think I would choose to live in an eternal now—a state of being in which decisions are created out of memory-free thin air and future consequences are dismissed as avoidable or undeserved. Living only for the moment seems like turning down the gifts of memory and foresight. Instead, I hope to use both gifts gratefully.
Looking back, I can see forks in the road, habits and blessings combined to create the person I am now. Looking forward, I can grasp forgiveness, purpose and assets to honor the person I hope to become. In honoring the past, preparing for the future and fully appreciating the present, I can stand above any noise and chaos that could capture my attention. The Janus-like mental exercise of looking in both directions expands my capabilities out to their God-given edges. With sharpened recollections of the past, I am less likely to repeat poor choices.
With faith and hope in God’s presence in my remaining years, I can approach each day with assurance that God’s proven providence (past) will continue beyond this moment (present) into a promised tomorrow (future).
As the words of the fourth-century Christmas hymn state the matter:
“Of the Father’s love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, he the source, the ending he
Of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore.”
At this pausing point between last and first days, AMEN!