A writer in The Epoch Times last week had an interesting reflection on the Old Testament story of Lot’s wife turning to a pillar of salt. You might remember the story from the book of Genesis: this happened because she had broken God’s commandment telling Lot and his family to not look back on the destruction raining down on the city of Sodom. The author, James Sale’s makes the case that the message of that story can be summed up in three words “don’t look back.” He observed that as human beings we live in three dimensions of time – or rather, we live in the present with a constant awareness of the past which is receding from us and the future which is approaching. As one is going away while the other is coming these dimensions of past and future have a profound effect on our perceptions and consciousness.
While it’s important to think about the past, especially to learn from it, the problem for most of humanity is that we can way too easily get stuck there. We can either idealize it to the point where we re-write history (When I was younger I was so much better at this, I had more energy, I had more interests) or we can get hung up on the negative things – (What we did wrong – what was done wrong to us) to the point that those thoughts can leave us stuck there: I’m mourning what has past, I’m regretting past mistakes; I’m nursing past hurts. The author’s perspective is that, for Lot’s wife, turning into a pillar of salt isn’t just a punishment for breaking a direct command from God – but something she does to herself… Her refusal to let go of the past, her longing to the perception of safety she had, the emotional, spiritual fixation on these things has her frozen in a sense, wanting to preserve it – like salt does. There’s a lot (no pun intended) to reflect on here. No doubt the idea of where our minds, our hearts fixations are on (Past – present – future) effects mental, physical and spiritual health.
What brought this to mind was that in both of these scriptures, we see the importance of not letting the past inhibit us, and more importantly the call of God spurring us to move forward.
In the Acts of the Apostles, once again we hear St. Paul preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He’s leaving the Ephesian community where he had enjoyed great success in his mission. It’s a bitter-sweet moment. After having some failures and set backs, (like we heard last week when he was preaching in Athens) he’s had great success here. And he knows the Holy Spirit is leading him to Jerusalem where the reality of “imprisonments and hardships” are awaiting him for continuing the mission. It would be easy for him to stay at Ephesus. Remembering how bad things were in Athens, enjoying the safety of this present moment which is receding into history with each passing moment – there was probably a temptation to stay there and just continue to enjoy this community that loved him and that he loved – and miss what God has planned for Him… God needs Him to do other things for other people that may or may not make sense to Paul in that moment or ever on this side of eternity. St. Paul knows the importance of moving on as we heard him speak of being ‘compelled by the Spirit, I am going…’
Similarly in the Gospel, Jesus is found not only concluding the Last Supper with this His prayer – but He sees and knows that his earthly mission is coming to an end. He’s fixated on what’s to come: yes the Cross is in view – but even more – Jesus can look past the cross and see the glory to come: “I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.”
As students here have come to an end of another Academic Year; as our seniors come to an end of their undergraduate careers; as all of us come to the end of the Easter Season – and for all of us, that this is happening at one of the most bizarre periods of history ever which has us all still a bit disoriented, fearful we need this reminder about leaving the past – and this vision moving forward. Because it would be easy for our thoughts to go back to pre-pandemic times… or maybe we find ourselves revisiting what these 8, 9 weeks have been – and just those reflections can easily lead us to being dazed and confused by this whole ordeal. We can be numbed into inaction.
St. Paul, and even more, Jesus remind us of the need to be looking forward… looking at where God is calling us, moving us, needing us to take all the gifts and talents we’ve been blessed with, to create and re-create things that will speak of the God who constantly brings new life, renews life for His creation.