The Gifts of Our Ancestors

By Greg Marton Not long after my great aunt died, I was looking through some of her things and came across a very old copy of the King James Bible with the following inscription written in the ornate hand of a bygone era: "Presented to our Grandma by Lulu and Maud, 12-25-1876." The name Lulu sounded familiar: my great-grandmother, who had died when I was a toddler. The owner of the book had been Lulu's grandmother, and my great-great-great grandmother. So in December of 1876, two little girls gave their grandmother a Christmas present. What they had no way of knowing was that near the end of the century to follow, one of their descendants, a Buddhist, would read their inscription and be nurtured by their grace and devotion.

As I held the book in my hands, I could see that it had sat on the shelf, unread, for many years. I also realized that, in a sense, the religious spirit within my family had been dormant for almost as long. For example, my grandfather, Lulu's son, had dropped out of divinity school as a young man, forsaking not only his plans to enter the ministry but his Christian faith as well. I had first met him many years later and remember him with great affection. He was a charming old man, a "free spirit" who viewed religious faith with contempt and cynicism.

It is impossible for me to say how my grandfather acquired such an attitude; I can only speculate. Perhaps religion had been presented to him in a sanctimonious or coercive way. At any rate, regardless of the alienation he apparently experienced, I am certain that my grandfather carried within him a gift of grace and strength, inherited from his ancestors, which he passed on to his daughter, my mother, and thus to myself. In my mother, this gift found expression in a loving spirituality further enriched by her respect and tolerance for the faith of others. We all carry the legacy of our ancestors within us. In a sense, it is their blood that flows through our veins, their hearts that beat inside us, their tears that fall when we suffer. Each of us receives this legacy, this gift of life, and adds something to it before we pass it on. And therefore our lives are not only an opportunity but a responsibility to future generations.

Often the legacy we have inherited is clouded by unhappiness. The challenge we face is to acknowledge the strengths, the gifts of grace, that our ancestors have passed on to us, and to use these to transform ourselves. I am certain that these strengths are always there, no matter how well-camouflaged.

When we look within ourselves, we may find anger, fear, even hatred. But at the same time we will surely find gifts of faith, wisdom, and compassion, precious beyond measure. Greg Marton lives in Medford, Oregon, and works as a children's therapist in nearby Grants Pass.

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