Friday, July 12, 2013

Nostalgia: For the Good Times

I certainly don’t want to mistake the New York Times or Fox News Network for the Gospel.  But there is good news in secular media---these two sources and many others.  I am delighted to read and appropriate good news wherever I can get it.  Some good news is inherently good.  It is good news for whoever finds it.  Other times, good news becomes good news when I am able to apply it to my situation.  One such example just happened for me.

I was reading the daily newspaper.  That is not novel.  I read about four newspapers daily---either in hard copy or online.  I like to be informed and I think I am basically curious---or nosy!  I like to know what’s going on, even though most of the time it probably does not affect my life in any significant way.  And so it was that I turned to an article about nostalgia.

It seemed like it could be interesting.  Anyone my age has experienced nostalgia---a memory, perhaps, longing for some piece or version of the past.  I began reading without much expectation that I would get anything out of the article except for some information.  I had no clue that nostalgia could be as important as it apparently is.  And I had little clue that it had some interesting spiritual implications.

The story opens by talking about a university professor who had just left the University of North Carolina for a job at the University in Southampton, England.  Dr. Constantine Sedikides met with one of his new colleagues and talked about his recent, powerful experiences of nostalgia of his Chapel Hill days.  He fondly shared stories of Tar Heel sports events, southern food, etc.  His colleague suggested he was depressed---sad at having “lost” all those previous Carolinian ties.

But it was not depression.  It was nostalgia.  And this pulled me on into the article and some fascinating awareness of contemporary research into the nature and function of nostalgia.  The first point made underscored the positive function of nostalgia.  Sedikides noted, “Nostalgia made me feel that my life had roots and continuity.  It made me feel good about myself and my relationships.  It provided a texture to my life and gave me strength to move forward.”  There are some amazing contentions within this quotation.

I like the link between nostalgia and the twin ideas of roots and continuity.  I am sure there is a relationship between having roots and having meaning in life.  If this relationship can be sustained over time, i.e. continuity, then we have a chance for meaning in life, rather than just a meaningful event.  Nostalgia makes people feel good about themselves and their relationships. 

This seems very true to me.  I look back over my life and think about the key relationships that I have been privileged to have, and I feel very rich.  Nostalgia is a past vindicator of the future I can yet have.  Feeling good about myself yesterday enables me to engage tomorrow with confidence.  As the article says, nostalgia gives texture to my life.  Texture is a “feel” for myself, others and things in general.  With this texture comes strength. 

I like the way Clay Routledge of North Dakota State University puts it.  “Nostalgia serves a crucial existential function…It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives. Some of our research shows that people who regularly engage in nostalgia are better at coping with concerns about death.”  Who does not want to be a valued person with a meaningful life?  This is where I am drawn to the link to spirituality.  It would be a good beginning definition of spirituality to talk about becoming a valued person who achieves a meaningful life.

I suggest that spiritual experiences can become building blocks of spiritual nostalgia.  Spirituality is not simply an “in the moment” fling with God.  There certainly are those kinds of moments.  I recall times of being at the ocean when I had a deep sense of God’s immense Presence.  I think about the birth of my two girls and associate those to the Profoundest Mystery of the universe.  Those were events, but I can remember them.  And when I ponder them, I can be nostalgic for the deep truth and meaning they convey.  The nostalgia begins to do its spiritual wonder.

Two other features of nostalgia remind me of the spiritual potential of it.  Nostalgia, we are told, “has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders.”  Counteracting loneliness, boredom and anxiety is also what I experience when the power of the Spirit is within me.  If I truly have a Friend in God, I am not going to be lonely; I won’t be bored and have no reason for anxiety.

With nostalgia I do not even need to have this experience every day.  Once I have had experiences with God then I can remember.  I can even be nostalgic---and I am full of joy, strong, generous to strangers, etc.  What a great gift.  What good news---for the good times!

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