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.

In her book In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, Alice Walker writes:

And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see -- or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read.

Each of my grandmothers had to forsake their passions to raise a family. It is a fairly common story. These were the expectations of the worlds in which they lived. I know that I carry their unfulfilled longings within me. Each time I claim my own voice, my own passion, my own strength, I do so in part for them. My work in the world is to catch fire, to bloom, and to unleash my own secret words. And now that my grandmothers have passed into the Mystery, I can call upon them to support me. They extend a shimmering thread to follow in the night.

This is a season to remember the grace of humility and unknowing. It is a time of recognizing there is a luminous wisdom so much more expansive than our own.

When you stand at the threshold space between this world and the next, who is there to greet you? Who are the ancestors -- genetic, spiritual, creative -- who offer you guidance and support through the challenges of life? Who have been the saints who offer illumination in the fertile dark periods of your lives when your belief structures were being re-formed?

What gifts are calling to you out of the long nights ahead that have previously gone unopened? How might you give honor to those ancestors who have traveled this road before you and welcome the wisdom they have to offer you for your life now?

Suggested Practices

  • This November, consider gathering together photographs and symbols for each of your ancestors you want to honor. Light candles and place them before each image. Spend some time opening your heart to the wisdom they offer across the ripples of time and remembering that they are present with you.
  • As you enter into an activity you love in the coming days, offer it on behalf of a loved one who has died, especially someone who had dreams unfulfilled.
  • Connect to that longing which still beats within your heart.
  • Imagine yourself embraced by an invisible circle of support. Call the names of your ancestors when you are feeling lonely or struggling, remembering that they too faced life’s search for meaning in times of darkness. They loved and lost, grieved and celebrated, and their stories hold seeds of wisdom for our own.
  • Make some time to welcome in the gift of growing darkness. Reflect on the places of your life that are calling for you to walk into unknowing rather than certainty and recognize the ways God is so much greater than what you can imagine.

Christine Valters Paintner is the online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery without walls offering classes and resources on contemplative practice and creative expression.