Prayer for the Day - Wednesday 20th September with Pádraig ÓTuama
Emily Dickinson has a poem — “The past is such a curious creature” — where she warns people about the past.
She says that the past may reward us — with a transport.
Or, it may threaten us with a disgrace.
You shouldn’t meet the past unless you’re armed, she said, because it has rusty ammunition.
Because the past isn’t necessarily the past — it can still wound today.
Today, in 1999, the UN arrived in East Timor. I was living in Australia at the time, and so East Timor was part of the everyday news, because of the numbers of Australians stationed there.
I began, for the first time, to pay attention to the story of Timor. Why do they speak Portuguese? Why are Australians implicated in the story of its conflict? Before its independence from Indonesia, did the people consider themselves Indonesian? Did anyone there? And why the attention now.
All of these questions opened up the past, but not in a safe way. The past was loaded, live, dynamic, with traps and temptations towards simple stories about a tiny island the history of which was anything but simple.
It’s like so many places: the jurisdictions of Ireland and Britain among them. The past looks at us, whether we wish to look at it or not.
God of the present,
If we stand very still,
we may find the courage
to tell stories of the past
that are not simple
that do not give pardon to the comfortable
or burden the oppressed.
If we are courageous
we can tell stories of the past
that help us
Help us find this courage.
Because we need it.