For in this community the past was rarely discussed. I do not mean it was taboo. I mean that it had somehow faded into a mist as dense as that which hung over the marshes. It simply did not occur to these villagers to think about the past—even the recent one.
“…Do you suppose there’s any truth in it, Axl? What Ivor was saying last night about the mist, that it was God himself making us forget? …Perhaps God’s so deeply ashamed of us, of something we did, that he’s wishing himself to forget. And as the stranger told Ivor, when God won’t remember, it’s no wonder we’re unable to do so.”
“What on this earth could we have done to make God so ashamed?”
“I don’t know, Axl. But it’s surely not anything you and I ever did, for he’s always loved us well. If we were to pray to him, pray and ask for him to remember at least a few of the things most precious to us, who knows, he may hear and grant us our wish.”
From The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Two translations of a great piece of advice from Abba Anotny:
Antony once told Abba Pambo: “Don’t worry about what was done in the past.” It was not really a matter of recognizing sins, but of recognizing oneself as a sinner. In so doing, one saw one’s true status before God. And that recognition came not so much from dwelling on past deeds, but on present “thoughts,” those haunting logismoi, that convicted one again and again of one’s status as a sinner. As Antony would put it, “This is a person’s magnum opus: to place guilt [for sins] upon himself and himself alone before God, and to expect temptation up until the last moment of his life.”
Abba Poemen said that blessed Abba Anthony used to say, ‘The greatest thing a man can do is to throw his faults before the Lord and to expect temptation to his last breath.’
A written tradition, when deciphered and read, is to such an extent pure mind that it speaks to us as if in the present. That is why the capacity to read, to understand what is written, is a like a secret art, even a magic that losses and binds us. In it time and space seem to be suspended. The man who is able to read what has been handed down in writing testifies to and achieves the sheer presence of the past.
From Discerning the Mystery by Andrew Louth.
The mind is the guardian of memories and fantasies, the past and the future respectively. Memories and fantasies come in two (and only two) varieties: good and bad. This means that all desires (related to keeping good memories and creating good fantasies) and all fears (related to avoiding bad memories and bad fantasies) come within the jurisdiction of the mind.
Unfortunately for the mind, the present moment is the only moment that is, in any sense, real. Moreover, in spiritual terms, the present moment is the only possible occasion in which we can meet God (or anyone else).
From Bread & Water, Wine & Oil by Archimandrite Meletios Webber (20).
It takes little training to doubt what lies beyond the five senses and no effort at all to drop the stern demands of noblesse oblige. (49)
…Only Odysseus’ knowledge of the past–his longing for Ithaka, Penelope, and Telemakhos–keeps him alive; and only the responsibility he takes for that knowledge rescues him from Kalypso’s pointless life of pleasure. (51)
From David Hicks’ Norms and Nobility.
It is difficult to evaluate the judgments of a past historical period, because we are not “at home” in it to assess its possibilities realistically. But is it any easier to evaluate the judgments of our own? Is it given to us to know our own society more clearly than a past one? Our society is not an object set before us for scientific examination. It is a historical, shifting and changing context, constantly emerging out of a past society and constantly developing into a future one. It is of infinite complexity, and we who assess it are part of it, and assess it from a partial point of view. We may sometimes suspect that there is no more misleading view of a society than the one it takes of itself, a blend of hopeful and despairing self-images, sectional perceptions, and so on.
The Ways of Judgment (Bampton Lectures) by Oliver O’Donovan, page 22.