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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Memory and desire

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

Terry Martin muses on memory and desire

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable.

In these oft-quoted opening lines of Burnt Norton, the first of his Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot gives us a meditation on time and eternity and 'a reflection of time as cyclical.' (1) Time for us human beings is as impossible to avoid as it is to comprehend fully. We have no choice but to live in the present, the eternal now, with memories of an unredeemable past and anticipations and desires for an uncertain future.

In older people’s ministry, we often talk with a person about their memories, but not so often about their desires. Their futures are likely to be shorter than ours since most of their life lies behind them. Nevertheless, they may still have hopes and desires for the future, even more urgent and important as opportunities for them to leave 'footprints on the sands of time' (2) are running low. What might a conversation exploring these issues look like?

Any conversation requires imagination, which C.S. Lewis defined as the organ of meaning; by contrast, he considered reason as the ‘natural organ of truth’; it compares the possible meanings in a given situation and tries to arrive at the true meaning. (3) Imagination was of supreme importance for Lewis and played a key role in his conversion. For instance, note the use of image or analogy in this quote from The Weight of Glory:

'Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.'( 3, 4)

An imaginative conversation for Lewis is intrinsically poetic (5), and following this lead, we might initiate a conversation with an older person by simply asking: 'What is your favourite poem?' They are quite likely to be able to recite it by heart and the opportunity naturally arises to explore its meaning with them. Any conversation about meaning can naturally deepen into ultimate issues.

The Bible contains much poetry and poetic material, so there will also be opportunities to respond in kind to enrich the conversation.


1. Pedro Blas González, 'Time and permanence in T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets', The Russell Kirk Center (2014),

2. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Psalm of Life (1838).

3. Art Lindsley, 'The Importance of Imagination for C.S. Lewis and for Us', C. S. Lewis Institute Report ( 2001),

4. C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (SPCK, 1942).

5. Michael Ward, 'C.S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason' (2015),

Terry Martin is a trustee of Southampton charity Caraway, promoting and resourcing the spiritual well-being of those in their older years.



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