Conversations With The Ancestors

Snowy_TreeEarly music wafts through the house this early Sunday morning, as light snow swirls past the window. Listening to Harmonia on our local Public Radio station is a Sunday morning ritual in our house. I have loved early European music for as long as I can remember; I hope my European ancestors take as much pleasure listening as I do, that they listen through me.

I believe I first heard early European music when a first grader attending a two room country school in England. A few days each week routine classes would halt as we listened to a BBC music education program. I remember looking out the window at the greening spring world, caught up in the immediacy and beauty of the music, and sensing the presence of the Ancestors who had walked the land hundreds of years prior to my arrival.

Since November I’ve been meeting monthly with a small group of women who wish to deepen their relationships with the Ancestors. It has been a rich, nurturing experience. I am grateful for the opportunity to watch them become more comfortable in their practice and relationship with the Ancestors.

One of the shared learnings we have gleaned from our work together has been this: our Ancestors did their best. As we journey back through our lineages we encounter much hardship and suffering. Most of us in the group are of both European and Native American heritage, and carry the conflicts and horrors inherent in that. We tend to side with the Natives, yet, when we journey back we discover that Ancestors from both sides struggled to survive in terrible conditions.

As we have journeyed to the Ancestors we have encountered the women, rather than the men. When I asked about this, I was shown the women had the task of securing the future. One Ancestor stated bluntly, “The men, whom we loved, were often useless. They were overwhelmed by life, children to be cared for. Not that they did not care or try. No, they did their best but they were defeated, their sense of competency crushed by greater forces. They were deeply wounded and dangerous to themselves and others. We carried the lineages forward.”

Our time with the Ancestors has taught us there is no blame; desperation drove so many actions, and hope was often a dim light beckoning from the distant future. Genocide was a constant companion for both lineages, being poor and subject to the colonial enterprise a shared fate. Our ancestors were sisters in backbreaking toil, heartbreak and fear.

Even though we struggle with divided selves, those women Ancestors seem united in compassion for their common hardship. As we consciously spend time with them, they offer to us that caring, for they see, that in spite of our material wellbeing, we live in darkening times. They remind us that our conflicted selves are born of real fear and pain, and from a fabricated view of history that obscures their shared human experience of hardship, longing, and desperate hope. They offer to walk with us, to tech us to have compassion for the suffering we have inherited. We are grateful to them.

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16 thoughts on “Conversations With The Ancestors

  1. powerful thoughts … journeying with the ancestors can be a powerful experience. And this post got me thinking…. what would it be like to journey with our own descendants… what would they want to know about us, about this time.. and what wisdom could we share with them?

    • Hi Della,

      I use journeying loosely as the Ancestors are always close. At the same time, I agree that journeying to those who will follow us is a necessary task, one filled with portent and often, obligation. It has long been done, and, oddly, is the source of some comfort to those of us who know we are the descendents of the travelers.

  2. Many years ago I gained the peace that comes from knowing that each generation of ancestors did the best they could with what they had to endure. I am no different. I was fascinated with how you describe these women as coming to terms with their mixed ancestry. It is so easy to divide humanity into the good guys and the bad guys, but until we walk in our ancestors’ shoes we can’t know why they made the decisions they did. I wish I was more quick to embrace and save the judgment until all the facts are in.

    • Hi Pat, It occurs to me the facts may never be in….. I am always working to be more open to the complexity of things. Not that I am successful or anything. Yet I do get that our Ancestors did their best, even in those moments I wish they had acted differently. That leaves me wondering about responsibility….

      • I hear you Michael. It seems the more I think the more confused I get. I know that people are capable of being really mean and nasty. Can we say that they were wrong but did the best they could? Is this letting them off the hook when they should be made accountable (what you mean by responsibility?)? When is repentance and restitution called for? Maybe there is a difference between social and personal judgment. I know that I needed to realize my ancestors did their best so I could forgive; carrying the anger took way too much energy and joy from my present. I appreciate your thinking and writing so much, Michael.

      • Thank you, Pat. The appreciation is mutual. I feel dumbfounded when I try to make sense out of the conundrum of responsibility. Somehow it appears to me that ALL of it is true.I am left with mystery, which I used to dismiss as lazy thinking. Ah, the pleasures of being younger and living in a less complex world! Still, I get really angry…..

      • Yes… the anger is our assurance that we have a soul and gives us our bearings, don’t you think. I like to think I am becoming more comfortable living with ambiguity – as it sounds like you are.

      • Pat, I’m hoping I am more comfortable. Not sure what will happen when things get really ambiguous. Yes, anger can be a fine compass, when it is well tuned. Maybe growing older does have its perks?

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