The Blessing and the Curse of Ancestors
This isn’t the blog I intended to write.
But something happened. Something that jostled my sense of who I am. Its relevance in my life deserves light, because I believe it will resonate with you as well.
I recently had the honor of being interviewed by an internationally-known psychic medium that I’ll call D.* In that interview, we discussed the spiritual-but-not-religious path, and the sacred wisdom in embracing our unique paths to spirituality. It was a lovely experience that has left me with feelings of surreality as I recall his calming and gentle presence. This amazing human was fully present, mindful and kind during our time together, and I felt his spirit connecting with mine.
Let’s pause for a moment for those who are clutching their pearls and gasping after learning that I was honored to be in this person’s presence. I see and understand you, because I’ve been right where you are. Indoctrinated beliefs are difficult to peel away, and they can pop up at any moment, tripping us up just as we are certain we have quelled their power over us.
The indoctrinated beliefs of my religious heritage warned of spiritual gifts outside of the church, because they were “not of God.” The words that church leaders used were intentionally chosen—“not of God” was our cue to not ask questions and, most importantly, do not defy this commandment.
Looking back, I can see how effective and manipulative this type of indoctrination was. Spiritual gifts implied an acknowledgement of the mystical powers that were present in these works. What is also implied is anything not of God is of Satan. This meant that all spiritual gifts that the church did not recognize as valid were evil and were to be avoided.
One day I’ll write about the hypocrisy of a religion that embraces its right to use sorcery and magic (it’s hidden in plain sight in the Bible), yet condemns others for finding wisdom in spiritual gifts outside of church control. It is enough for today to acknowledge the pearl-clutching that occurs at the mere mention of a psychic. If we can just take a breath and release our souls from the confinement of thousands-year old text that was never intended to be a code of behavior here in the 21st century, then let us return to the story.
At the conclusion of our time together, we spoke a few minutes off-air. Curiosity was rising in me as I desired to know if D picked up any of my ancestors who may have been present. However, another layer of indoctrination crept up—the layer that taught we children of the boomer generation to be seen and not heard. I was convinced that I would be seen as rude if I asked D any questions, and so I remained silent.
As we were saying our goodbyes, D offered his gifts to me by saying “would you like to know who is with you?” Of course, I said yes. D proceeded to share that I had powerful male energy surrounding me. I admit that I was taken aback. I was raised by fiercely strong and courageous women who filled the roles of both matriarch and patriarch when men failed. I had always assumed those women—my grandmothers and beloved aunt—were somehow present and guiding me.
The truth was that this wasn’t the first time that someone had told me that male ancestors were surrounding me. The first time occurred when I had sought guidance from a healer when I was confused and anxious about my spiritual path after leaving church. This gifted healer was a shaman, who relied on her own Indigenous Native ancestral heritage to guide her. She assured me that my path would become clear, and I would be using my journey and my gift of teaching to help others on their journey to discover their spirituality.
It was during one of our visits that she shared that a man often accompanied me. She said he was proud of what I was doing, because I was finishing the work that my ancestors had begun. That insight pointed me to my Southern Baptist heritage, where I descend from a long line of pastors who were gifted and passionate preachers. This made sense to me, and I felt affirmed in my calling to pursue my call to ministry.
This also was the catalyst for my diving into my ancestral line to learn more about the lineage of my maternal grandmother’s side of the family. The busyness of life and seminary quickly became my priority, and I drifted away from researching any more of my ancestral lineage.
That is until this week, when I sat listening to this renowned psychic telling me that male energy is around me. I shared what had been told to me many years ago, assuming that the male presence D sensed was the same male presence from several years ago. But this is where his words surprised me—D told me that this was a presence who knew me as a child. According to D, this male was “unfinished,” meaning he never fully matured in the physical life to become all that had been possible for him. D shared that although this male had spoken little, he actually had much to say. He simply lacked the words to express what was going on inside his mind.
My God—my paternal grandfather. Could it be?
D said that this presence had William or Williams surrounding him. That confused me because I hadn’t known any Bills, Billy’s or Williams in my lineage, but I knew that I would be diving back into my ancestral heritage to discover this mystery.
I thanked D for this insight and for our time together, both of us promising to keep in touch. I sat staring at the now black computer screen for a few minutes while I replayed his words in my mind and considered the presence of a grandfather that I barely knew.
He died when I was in my 20’s, so it wasn’t that I didn’t know him—I did. As a child, he absolutely terrified me. That terror abated to intimidation in my teens. I can’t recall one sentence he ever said to me. Not a single one. Contrast that with my grandmothers, where I have memories of them dancing with me, laughing at my antics, teaching me their crafts with florals and crochet, taking me on road trips and pouring into me their love for family and religion. Their deaths gutted me, and even today my inner child aches for their presence in my life.
“A man of few words”
D had said he was “a man of few words.” This doesn’t even begin to describe how little he spoke. Not only how little he spoke, how little he moved! It wasn’t that he couldn’t speak or move. He just simply chose not to. I have no recollection of a smile ever crossing his face. He simply sat in his chair with the only outfit I had ever seen him in—black pants, white socks, black shoes and white shirt. Even as a little girl, I sensed that we, his family, were a bother. I was more than happy to avoid him lest I risk the chance of being alone in a room with him—a terrifying thought for a little girl.
I can’t recall the last time I thought of this grandfather anymore than I have thought about my maternal grandfather. I had grouped both of them in the category of people that I would have been better off as never having known. That may sound cruel, but when you sit across from one who sent vibes of disdain your way in every encounter and the other who did physical harm that no child should ever have to endure, no one has a right to judge how I have healed from my childhood trauma.
And yet here I sat, staring at a black computer screen, knowing that I was being invited into a deeper connection with who I am and a new level of healing. As I sat there, I realized that I had found it easier to embrace my maternal grandmother’s lineage because most of them I hadn’t known.
In other words, they hadn’t harmed me. They were enigmas, and I was free to romanticize my bond to them through my work as a minister. In order to do that, I had to disregard the obvious—these male pastors who were my familial heritage would have rejected me as their equal had I lived in the time of their ministries. Not only would they have rejected me as a minister, I would have been reprimanded as a woman who didn’t know her place in a white, Christian male world. Perhaps in some way, I needed to ignore that painful reality to reconcile in my mind that there had to be good men somewhere in my lineage.
Tapping the keyboard to awaken my computer, I typed the code to enter into my family tree. There in my patriarchal line was my grandfather’s name, with the blinking arrows signaling there was more information about his lineage to discover. I had seen it before—I had simply chosen to ignore it.
One click, and a whole world of my family opened to me, all the way back to the 1700’s where Willhelm from Germany had been born. Willhelm, who eventually migrated to America. Willhelm, who’s less formal name is pronounced William. Willhelm, who was the first of five Williams in my grandfather’s lineage, including my great-great grandfather. These Williams were captains who fought in the Revolutionary War and led the charge to freedom. These Williams answered the call to go westward and settle lands in the Indiana and Kentucky territories.** These Williams’ DNA trickled into my grandfather who was most likely unseen as the middle child of eight children. This grandfather, who as a child must have released any hopes he may have had for his life and accepted his fate to perform labor to just get by in life, like many did growing up in blue collar/post-industrial revolution America with no formal education.
I was beginning to see how my grandfather could have been an unfinished soul. This unfinished soul, who had seen me as a child but lacked the words to tell me so. Who had things he wanted to do but was immobilized by…what? Fear? Lack of motivation? Depression?
For the first time in my life, I was seeing my grandfather through my 60-year old eyes instead of the eyes of a scared little girl where I had frozen him in time. What appeared as anger toward his loved ones could have arisen from a dark space deep within himself that had nothing to do with me. That isn’t to excuse who he was. I heard the stories my grandmother and his children shared, including my father. He, as they said, was a “mean son of a bitch,” a statement eerily accurate because my great grandmother was said to have been a formidable, scary woman herself with a penchant for bursts of violent rage.
Rage. Anger, Fear. Lack of motivation. Depression.
Oh, this blessing and curse of our ancestors!
There’s more I could write, but this is already close to being a chapter in a book. And to be completely honest, opening this portal to my ancestors has given me much to consider about who I am.
Some things, however, are making sense.
My desire to discover Germany always felt like a quirky bucket list item. Now I get it.
My ability to problem solve by wading upstream, identify the source of the problem, then rally people to the cause to provide a permanent solution. Now I get it.
And—this is where I need the space to embrace this—my propensity to plunge into the abyss of depression that leaves me paralyzed and hopeless. Now I get it.
Somehow, I find my way out of that abyss, clawing my way back to a life waiting for me, and people who love me. I don’t know why my grandfather couldn’t. Why can I crawl out of the abyss of depression, yet he remained buried in it? Why did he not fight harder? Why couldn’t he?
Those are questions I may never have answered “on this side of heaven”—a phrase I use for embracing the mystery of our returning to that from which we came. I may no longer believe in the heaven of religious heritage, but I do believe we came from Love, and Love is what we return to someday.
And apparently when we get there, we are able to reach through the sacred portal to this life and guide those still here, especially if we were unfinished souls. I don’t know where this journey with my grandfather will take me. I don’t obsess over it, nor do I try to understand it. But as I close this writing, I am grateful that I accepted the invitation to embrace more of the DNA that runs through this body.
May it help me become a more finished soul.
*My interview with D will air in November, then I’ll be able to share more info, so stay tuned!
**My embracing my ancestral heritage is not to silence the pain caused by the annihilation of Indigenous Natives who are the First People of this land. I honor the Shawnee, Miami, Wea, Potawatomi, Delaware, Wyandot, Kickapoo, Piankashaw, Chickasaw and Cherokee whose stolen land we now call Indiana and Kentucky.