Looking back and looking forward

While most people in our community have been looking forward to summer weather, I have been spending this season looking back.

This summer marks some noteworthy anniversaries in my life. Five years ago, our family moved to Mercer Island. Twenty-five years ago, I was ordained as a minister of the Gospel. Forty years ago, I graduated from Wenatchee High School. With each observance I’ve found myself sorting through mental photographs while paging through family albums. With each commemoration, I’ve been reminded how quickly life passes and how the past has influenced the present.

For our community this is a season for looking back as well. This coming weekend, our annual Summer Celebration! will invite us to focus on decades gone by and recall “the good old days.” In one week's time, we will gather in Mercerdale Park for a celebration cleverly dubbed “Mercerversary.” It will provide us with numerous opportunities to reflect on a half-century of memories since our city was incorporated as a municipality.

But public occasions that call us to ponder the past give us more than just an excuse to throw a party. Memories of yesteryear provide us with the context to be grateful for “the good old days.” They also offer a perspective by which we can better understand how far we’ve come. While giving us a chance to catch our communal breath, retrospective glances over our shoulders enable us to better face the future.

In both the Jewish and Christian faith, reflection on past events is not merely encouraged; it is demanded. Followers of Judaism are instructed to remember how the Lord rested on the seventh day after creating the universe and all forms of life in six. Looking back, they are to observe the Sabbath day as a memory jogger. Similarly, my Jewish neighbors and friends are called to recount God’s deliverance from the ancient Egyptians some 3,000 years ago by celebrating the Passover each spring. By doing so, they remember the historical evidence of supernatural redemption.

Christians, meanwhile, are instructed to commemorate Holy Communion on a regular basis. Through this simple (but sacred) meal of bread and wine, they remember the death of Jesus and His power to forgive sin. Similarly, His followers practice the ancient rite of baptism. In this symbolic act of being immersed in water, they are forced to remember God’s power to raise up what was dead and buried and bring it back to life.

What is true for religious groups is also true for families (and communities). Recalling historic events that marked our ancestors’ life journeys provides us with a sense of identity. What defines who we are today can only be understood as we take an honest look at circumstances that have influenced us directly (and indirectly). Looking back enables us to look within. That inward focus reminds us that we are not alone, but part of something that is bigger than we are.

Because we are uniquely shaped by events and people that preceded us, pondering our past is productive. As we contemplate the experiences of previous generations, we have opportunity to acknowledge their mistakes and wisdom. Those insights, in turn, motivate us to act on what we’ve learned.

Memories are the key that enable us to unlock the doors which lead to understanding, gratitude and change. In this nostalgic season of reminiscing, I invite you to look back, that you might look forward with confidence and hope at what is still to come.

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