Novembris, piemiņas (Week Two)

In this, the second section of Christine Valters Painter’s reflections on the month of November, we are reminded powerfully that our story does not begin with us. Rather, deep within us, shaping our genetic code, are the life-stories of those who have gone before us, and the world from which they came. We are rooted in their past.

It reminds me of my husband’s words to me as we talked of marriage. He promised he would try to learn my language: “I won’t be able to understand you until I can begin to understand your language” and he did. Language can, of course, be a metaphor as well as have a literal meaning. It prompts us to ask of ourselves: how well do I know the “language” of my forebears? What do the songs they sang, and the prayers they said say about their belief and trust in God as well as their values? How can I become more open to let this resonate within me and so truly value their place in my life?

If you click on the link at the foot of the page and go to page 2 on the website you will find a series of exercises Painter invites us to practice and so deepen our experience.

Mācītāja Ilze

We live in a world where certainties about God are the impulse behind violent acts and the violation of people’s dignity. Perhaps if we all recognized that the way of unknowing was the necessary complement to the way of images and knowing, we would act with more humility and be less willing to speak for God. Our ancestors have passed over into the Great Night and they call to us across the threshold to release our tight grip on what we think we know.

We are surrounded by a great “cloud of witnesses” Paul’s letter to the Hebrews (12:1) tells us. We don’t often make room for the honoring of ancestors or valuing what connection to the stories of our past might bring to us. For me, honoring the Communion of Saints means recognizing that the lives lived before mine matter. It means remembering that there is ancient wisdom wrought from generations of engagement and struggle with life. We can call upon those who have confronted the great mystery of being across time.

We carry the stories of our ancestors in our genetic code; they beat in our blood. When we uncover the layers of the stories our family systems have lived for generations we begin to understand ourselves better. Some of these stories we may know the details of, and some we may only experience in an intuitive way. These memories live inside of us, waiting for us to give them room in our lives. Within me is a sacred thread that ties me to everyone in my ancestral past. I carry within me the wounds and unfulfilled longings, the hopes and dreams of everyone who came before me. Learning their stories means I come to know my own more intimately.

Each of us has concentric rings to our stories — my story is embedded in the story of my family, which is nestled in the story of my parents’ families, and so on back through generations. This genetic story is wrapped in cultural stories, the places and events that shaped the people who came before me — scripture, language, music, landscape, and the trauma of war that carries down from generation to generation. This cultural story is shaped by the unfolding story of nature and the cosmos. We might imagine ourselves as a smooth stone dropped in a lake, and the center of the ripple widening out to the great shores of God.

Credits: Luminous Wisdom of Night:Reflections on All Saints and All Souls by Christine Valters Painter
Header photo

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