Looking Back

When we think of our journeys, our default mode is to think about where we are going: a forward looking direction that orients us toward our future.

But sometimes the journeys back in time can be just as important.

I often am asked to help celebrate major anniversaries. In just a couple weeks I will be in Barnstable MA for their 400th anniversary. How cool is that?! When I am asked to speak at such an event, I make sure the church faces both directions: from heritage to horizon; the past and the future.

The look back informs to journey forward. As Robert Frost wrote in his landmark poem about two roads diverging in a yellow wood, wondering whether the choice he made would hasten some regret and lead to a different choice:

“Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”

Like many, I am reveling in my personal history. I have an aunt who has been posting discoveries of the family history on my mother’s side. Last night, my dad’s brother arrived for a short stay in our home. We spent hours telling stories about what he has learned about our roots. He brought along some mementos – artifacts that could only have meaning to those whose lives are connected to those who previously held them.

The pictures, the artifacts, the stories are not just treasure troves provoking memory and spirit – they are determinants of futures. Not in a fatalistic way – but in an evocative manner – knowing how way leads on to way.

Scripture really came alive for me when I began reading it through this lens. I have learned to approach these sacred texts not as news articles written by journalists or historians, but as collections of stories intended to evoke pathways and affect choices. These precious memories are the artifacts of ancestors in faith whose encounters with the divine not only compelled them to walk with this God, but committed them to pathways that the relationship with our creator opened up for them. Those pathways left others behind – committing them and their descendants to walk the way of love and justice. The stories of what they experienced, what they discovered, what they embraced, what they learned inspire us all to make similar choices.

And choosing love has mattered. As has choosing justice. And knowing how way leads on to way, I doubt that I shall ever look back.

Walk with me, won’t you?

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race set before us: indeed, the race set before us. Not in any fatalistic, determinant way. But in the simple, beautiful way of knowing from where we come and with pride, knowing how way leads on to way – doubting that our look back will change our commitments to love and justice. This is who we are. Our family has helped make it so.

On the day of our marriage, my wife Mimi and I read from the book of Joshua: choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the lord. We didn’t come to that choosing without a history of previous commitments. Day has led onto day – and we have not looked back.

Gentle traveler, what does your glance back teach you about your future steps? Take time to touch the hearts and souls of those who came before you. Let their stories help shape your own as you give shape to the generations to come. And may your steps be rich with possibility as your make your way Into the Mystic.