a2479543634_10As of late, the subject of one’s past has become a pretty popular topic. Political candidates and beauty contestants alike all seem to have histories that are up for discussion and judgment. And the past, in our current climate, appears to generally be full of things people want to remain hidden.

Of course, the past always has a way of whispering hello to us, all these years later.

In early June I was driving our children up from Mississippi to Sewanee, Tennessee. Which meant, as luck would have it, that we drove right past Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Many of my weekends in college were spent there with a boyfriend who I got very close to marrying. It didn’t work out, as things sometimes don’t. He was Jewish and I was Christian and I am the kind of person who needs everyone to pick a lane, preferably the same one. So that was that. It was an odd feeling to drive past that place that had meant so much to me. I remembered what it felt like to be young and to agonize over love. I realized it was not necessarily a feeling I missed.

When I was a sophomore in college, that same boyfriend became president of his university’s Hillel House. Which basically meant he was the head of the Jewish version of the Baptist Student Union, or more likely, Canterbury Club. Immediately, I knew I had my work cut out for me. american flag cakeThere would be a Passover dinner to help organize. I would need to figure out how to make noodle kugel. I was convinced that I needed to support him in whatever way that I could. That year, for the Israeli Independence Day Party, I pulled out the traditional American flag cake recipe that my family made for July 4th. Only, I left out the strawberries and made a giant Star of David on the cake out of blueberries and Cool Whip. Our party goers were wowed. Suddenly, I was Charlotte York Goldenblatt meets Martha Stewart.

With all of the parties and church suppers I host in my current circumstances, I marvel at what God was doing at that Hillel House in Tuscaloosa. He was preparing me to marry an Episcopal priest. I just know it.

There are people in my life who remind me of that era with a sort of corrective righteousness that I have come to disdain. “Remember when you almost became Jewish, Sarah?” they have whispered to me as though this should be some dark secret. Yes, I always think. I remember that clearly. I remember the incredible light of Shabbat dinners filled with laughter and sweet manichevtiz. I remember regularly driving from Oxford, Mississippi to the synagogue in Memphis, Tennessee on Friday nights for services. I remember how gracious that community was to me. I remember the Rabbi telling me that conversion could be hard on my parents. And I also remember after a year of faithfully trying leave the church, finding such a move utterly impossible.

Christianity is full of narratives about what Christians should do. Perhaps the one I find most disturbing is that our pasts do not matter. Maybe it is because I am a Southerner with a deep devotion to history or maybe some sick part of me likes to remember the hard times, but I have never understood this demand in certain Christian circles. I have met so many Christians who do not want to remember the fundamentalist parents who raised them. And then there are innumerable believers who imbibed in sex, drugs, and Dave Matthews Band, yet only want people to know their latest “purest” incarnation of themselves. Just bury it in a Bible verse, we seem to tell ourselves, and act like it never happened.

I see this negative posture towards our past in so many different parts of people’s lives. Certainly, there are those major family “incidents” that no one should ever speak of. You know the greatest hits: suicide, extramarital affairs, your cousin who cannot get sober. But then there are those things that were actually joyful and meaningful and yet people are compelled to add those to the “Shall Not Discuss” category. I have friends who are “never to talk” about their old boyfriends or girlfriends with their spouses. This baffles me. If nothing else, your spouse’s long ago amore was ultimately God heading them straight into your arms.

People often love to quote St. Paul and tell us that in this new life in Christ they are going to spend time with “better” people and that their past is inconsequential to their future. I suppose I struggle with this notion most not because it negates my glorious glory days, but because this attitude loses sight of what God is doing in our lives, even before we decide to get on board with him.

Each week in church we open with the Collect for Purity. In this moment we pray aloud, “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, and from whom no secrets are hid…” There is nothing that can or should be hidden away from Jesus. We cannot name the boundaries of our hearts or even determine what God might be using them for.

God is always doing something, all of the time. His love follows us and leads us, even when we are bound to and determined to ignore him. He is with us when we sit on the pews of a synagogue hoping that “Amazing Grace” would stop playing in our heads. He is with us in our covenant of marriage and in our lost loves. And for certain, our God is as much a God of our past as he is our present.