The Ghost of Christmas Past: Wanting to Extinguish What Must Be Explored
Everything about the Ghost of Christmas Past is exceptional.
While televised renditions attempt to capture its essence, all of them fail – some miserably so.
But, of course, how could they not?
The Ghost that Haunts Us All
Dickens imagines a complex and contradictory apparition. Conveying the essence of the Ghost of Christmas Past is like trying to describe an ancient, angelic being. The kind of being lodged in the bowels of Apocalyptic books like Daniel or Ezekiel.
The mythical appearance of the apparition serves as a stark reminder that the portions of our past we are unwilling to name will always fill us with fear and leave us conflicted. These unnamed and unknown realms of our personal history hold us captive in ways we’re often unable to identify.
Scrooge’s journey with the Ghost of Christmas Past represents the journey we all ought to take. As such, the Ghost of Christmas Past teaches Scrooge a lesson we all need to learn!
It’s a journey into the unnamed past that inexplicably haunts our present.
When Our Unnamed Past Inexplicably Haunts Our Present
Years ago, when I began to get serious about breaking my addiction to pornography, Melissa and I sought help anywhere we could find it. One of the places we found help was in a counselor’s office.
Early in our sessions, the counselor said,
“We only deal with the part of the past that you’ve brought into the present. The problem with that, however, is that we have to delve deeply into your personal history/story so that we can together identify what you’ve been unwilling or unable to identify on your own.”
That statement marked the beginning of an arduous – even torturous – journey. And through this walk through the wilderness of my past, I discovered that what I’d previously tried to extinguish I was now being forced to explore.
And, if you’re intrigued by a guide that reflects the journey, you’re going to love what Dickens does with the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Courage and Compassion
The spirit’s combination of confusion, compassion, and courage animates to the mystery of exploring and examining the past.
Here are a few of the features that struck me:
- Its appearance of both a child and an old man.
- It’s a figure who is in constant flux. At one time like light, another like darkness. Once having only one arm, at other times twenty legs, and yet other times a pair of legs with no head.
- It is cloaked in a tunic of pure white, with hair to match. Yet skin like that of a tender child.
- The ghost is as warm, kind, and thoughtful as it is terrible, powerful, and persistent.
- It held holly and wore summer patterns, though it appeared in the midst of a weary wintry season.
And, while every feature is impressive in its own right, Dickens is intent on drawing the reader to notice one feature that stands out above all the others: a light that screams from the crown of its head and a cap-in-hand that serves as the hope of extinguishing it.
Scrooge, describing the ghost, is captivated by the presence of such radiance:
But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.
Scrooge asks the spirit who and what it is.
The spirit responds that it’s the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Not Just Any Past, My Past
Scrooge hopes that it’s the long past, but the spirit informs him that he represents Scrooge’s very own past.
The Spirit then invites him to go back in time, to places Scrooge has long ignored.
There are, from Scrooge’s vantage point a host of reasons to refuse the invitation (as though he could). One of which is the fact that Scrooge is mortal and cannot float, flit, or fly through realms unseen and untraveled by man.
The ghost satisfies this objection by placing his hand on Scrooge’s heart. In this way, the ghost is able to take Scrooge to those places he is unwilling or unable to go alone.
While I’d love to walk you through the rest of Scrooge’s journey, I’ll leave it to you to read it for yourself.
You’ll not be sorry.
I will leave you with a few reflection on Scrooge’s journey into his past and how it bears a resemblance to the journey all of us must take.
Reflections from Scrooge’s Journey into His Past: Heart-ache, Hope, and a Healing Soul
- Everyone’s past is littered with moments of both heartache and hope.
Everyone has a past. A life behind us that shapes the life before us. No matter how pain-filled our past may have been, if we, in the company of those we trust, reflect enough on our past as a whole, we also witness moments of joy.
The stories that shape us and the narratives that form us are often filled with a complex and confusing mixture of both heartache and hope.
We often see only the heart-ache.
When our focus is solely on those moments of heartache and the wretchedness they cause, our life tends to be forged in ways that welcome the heart-ache and inflict the wretchedness on others. We absorb the defense mechanisms that protected us in those moments of great pain.
As such, though once required to survive, they now serve as our self-inflicted prisons.
A Hint More Hope than Heartache
When we can identify moments of hope – even though they may be far outnumbered by the moment of heart-ache – we begin to notice the love and life those moments brought. We can, once identifying these moments, begin to live from a place of trust and surrender, no longer feeling the urge to justify, defend, and preserve.
In Scrooge’s case, he first encounters his lonely childhood experience at boarding school. The narrative indicates the only friends he is able to find are those he conjures in his imagination. These friends are characters lifted from the books that were at his disposal.
These lonely childhood memories leave Scrooge sobbing, begging the ghost to haunt him no more.
Yet, there are other more pleasant memories.
He sees the moments when his father sends for him and bids him, “come home.” This is one of the most compelling scenes in the chapter, for the messenger of this good-tiding is none other than his little sister, whom he loves dearly. She prances around like a puppy in the warmth of its owner’s love.
She exclaims that father is now kind and gentle and ready for his boy to return as a man. The reader feels, for the first time, a sense of delight and joy in the childhood memory.
There are other moments of hope.
Moments of lads running through the fields, playing games and singing songs and – of all things – wishing one another Merry Christmas.
The Cleansing Power of Tears
This package-deal of remembrance serves to bring Scrooge to tears. These tears leave the reader, however, sensing that they are washing away decades of partial memory and unrelenting pain.
Scrooge’s journey reminds me of the potency in the practice of story-telling. In order to tell one’s story, we must first know the story we are telling. This often requires a journey – sometimes lengthy and painful – back in time! As we take this journey, we are connected to the experiences that we’ve long since forgotten but that have lived on within us, nonetheless.
This spiritual rhythm of storytelling brings healing and hope. Healing from a broken past that continues to dog us in the present and hope for a renewed future that we despair to think is always just beyond our reach.
Scrooge’s journey is just beginning. But don’t be fooled: it’s our journey as well.
The second leg of the Ghost of Christmas Past is up next.
Disrupting to Renew!