Margaret Silf
Lent can be a disorienting, dislocating time, and sometimes it seems that it observes us more than we observe it. Twice recently I had the feeling that Lent was observing me and gently tweaking at my mind and heart, not without a smile on its face. The first of these moments happened in the middle of the vibrant, pulsating city of Berlin in the heart of central Europe. I lived in Berlin for several years during the cold war. My memories of the city as it was then are wildly different from the magnetic metropolis it has become since German reunification. Then, back in the 1960’s, West Berlin was an island in the middle of East Germany. It was cold rather than cool, a half-abandoned city with a disproportionate number of elderly people, the younger generations having largely migrated to West Germany or farther afield. It was a city under siege, where people lived under the shadow of division, half expecting a Soviet offensive any day. Above all, it was a city with sinister empty spaces, once traversed by the traffic of life and now crossed only by barbed wire and a concrete wall. In short, it was a Lenten kind of place in which to live.

But this was a return visit, a bit of a nostalgia trip. I took the U-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz, which has become arguably the most spectacular example of the city’s resurrection. When I lived there, Potsdamer Platz was grim and derelict, bisected by the wall, a no-man’s land, silent and surreal. Now it throbs with life, its high-rise towers soaring above the milling multitudes, proclaiming we are risen!

Two schoolgirl researchers approached me. Would you mind if we asked you a couple of questions? they ventured politely. Why not? I had time, and they obviously had their reasons. Where are you from? they inquired, and seemed mildly surprised at my answer. What do you think of Potsdamer Platz? they went on. I was enthusiastic, and I showed it: An amazing renaissance. A good ambience. A great place to be. And why did you come here today? they continued. Memories, I said, and described to them briefly how this part of the city used to be, 40 years ago. It was at this point that I realized I was telling them about a world of which they had absolutely no inklinga stark and threatening world now buried under the dust of time. What for me seems only yesterday is for them distant history. Does it matter whether they hear about it or not?

I think it does, because everything that has happened to and in Berlinthe good, the bad and the uglyhas made it what it is today, which in turn is the seed of everything it has the potential to become.

What is true for a city is true for every person too. Our history matters our collective and our personal stories. When we listen to our memories, we expose hidden layers of who we are. The memory-keepers (which means all of us) have a sacred duty to share their treasure with those who follow. To fail to do so is to risk becoming one-dimensional beings with no depth beyond the immediate impulse, no hinterland to lend perspective. This is surely why we listen to our memories in some detail during the Easter Vigil, as succeeding generations of God’s pilgrim people tell us how it was.

The second twist to my Lenten tale was one of those ridiculous moments that occasionally put us at risk of falling over our own feet. I was phoning a friend in Australia, having first calculated the time difference, so as not to invade her slumbers. We chatted and then I found myself commenting on how good it had been to speak with a human being who has already arrived at tomorrow. If we should fear for our continuance, I suggested, it would always be possible to speak with an antipodean and be reassured not only that tomorrow will come, but that indeed tomorrow has already come. The future lives and breathesnot in some ghostly incorporeal way but in flesh and blood, mind and spirit.

We laughed at the thought of such reassurance, given to us courtesy of the international date line, but underneath the laughter was a different kind of knowledgeEaster knowledge. What is it that makes us so sure that tomorrow will comeor rather that tomorrow is actually already here, a living reality informing and shaping all we are and are becoming? My conversation with Australia brought the answer wonderfully into focus. What makes me so sure of tomorrow is that I know Someone who is already living it. This is not someone I have merely heard about or bumped into in catechism or creed. It is someone even more real and present than my friend down under. I know, with Easter knowledge, the transforming power of Christ’s presence, because I can see its effects in myself and in others. I can even speak with him in prayer without having to check my watch before I call.

We can live with confidence in the tension between the yesterday we remember in the Vigil readings and the tomorrow we greet with the Exsultet. Eternal life is real because Christ is already living it and breathing its spirit into all we do and all we are.

It matters that we celebrate and communicate our sacred history, and that we catch those glimpses in the night that tomorrow already is. They are the steppingstones from history to mystery.

Margaret Silf lives in Staffordshire, England. Her latest books are Companions of Christ: Ignatian Spirituality for Everyday Living and the Catholic Press Association award-winning The Gift of Prayer.

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