Advent addresses our past in the present with expectations for our future. It shows a non linear approach to time unlike how we tend to approach time in our dimension. Sometimes it seems we are destined to live a ground-hog existence when we try and address our legacy issues. The problem is, when does the past stop and the present begin?
Does it stop in 1998 with the signing of the Belfast Agreement? Or does the past inhabit our present and in that sense, the past is never gone? This is not simply a rhetorical question as we now have a generation of young people born in the year of the first ceasefire, 1994, who are no longer teen-agers. Indeed those born in the year in which we signed the Belfast agreement are now finishing “big school”, during which they have learned about a past which we still contest, probably reflecting on “my past” rather than “our past”.
There are a number of things about the past on which we can agree. It is complex, it can be toxic, it is nuanced, it is a shared experience, (though elements are factually disputed), it is more subjective than objective, it fades with time but its legacy remains. Memory plays a huge part in our formation and as much of our recall is community or family based, it passes through a number of analytical social filters before it becomes received or accepted history.
Memory does, however, play tricks and as time moves on, some facts and elements of the past fade. This is a normal process and neither means we are creating a past nor reinterpreting history to our own ends. So we need to accept we are formed by our own memory as well as the remembering of others, even our “enemies”.
Memory is not a linear process and as John Paul Lederach reminds us, we constantly move between the past and the present and through this create new memories which transcend the years. He put it this way, “ We find it hard to live with the ambiguity formed by the murky windows we all peer through, which we assume are accurate and clear. They are not. We peer into past, present and future through a glass lit dimly”. Many things can dim our view of the world, prejudices, our experiences, pain and memories. Accepting this reality, can we take time to re-imagine the past and remember the future as we build our united community. God believes in us, do we also believe in our potential for change?