“This morning, let the great cloud of witnesses be as near to us as our breathing, help us to feel the presence of our wise and well ancestors pulsing within us. Help us to feel their abundant blessing on our lives as they grieve with us and celebrate our joys. We ask them to bless our feet and guide us on our path ahead.”
(Opening prayer for Day 4 Morning of the Love of Thousands prayer cycle)
Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
Today we release Day 4 of our Love of Thousands prayer cycle. Click the links above for morning and evening prayer on the themes of the Blessings of the Ancestors and Healing the Wounds of Generations.
I offer you another excerpt from my book The Love of Thousands:
We have largely lost a sense of regular connection to our ancestors, especially those that may have died before we were even born. Like the saints, our wise and well ancestors can be a source of tremendous wisdom and support as we move through this life. Those who are not fully vibrant at death, we can help bring healing to.
We communicate with ancestors much in the way we would communicate with angels and saints- through dreams, visions, synchronicity, nature, ritual, and imagination. We call upon them through prayer, we honor them through ritual offerings, and we ask them for guidance.
Henri Nouwen wrote: “Remembering the dead is choosing their ongoing companionship.” This is an intentional act of cultivating relationship.
For some of us, when we think about ancestors our thoughts may immediately turn toward a dysfunctional family system or a legacy of pain and wounding we carry in our family line. Perhaps you had a very toxic family system and so the thought of naming blessings seems ridiculous or too much of a stretch. Rest assured we will be working with some ways to bring healing to our family lines. But first I want to invite us to ponder the blessing of our ancestors.
If we consider that saints are those who are wise and well and have lived into their truest and deepest selves in the service of love, we might be able to imagine that some of our ancestors also reached this state of illuminated living in their lifetimes or beyond the veil.
Perhaps you were adopted and never knew your birth family. It might help as well to consider our ancestors not just of blood and bone, but also of spiritual lineage, of creative lineage, or other vocational inspiration. Let us consider that our ancestors also bless us in innumerable ways as well.
We can get consumed by the healing work that needs to happen, indeed it is a lifelong journey. But much like the wisdom of Somatic Experiencing, a field of work to address trauma that begins with resourcing ourselves and finding pleasure as a portal to grace, we can begin with naming the blessings our ancestors have bestowed upon us as a way of grounding ourselves in the gifts of our genetic and spiritual lines.
The first fundamental blessing we can offer gratitude for is the gift of life itself. No matter what kind of family we came from, no matter how much suffering was caused, there is the fundamental impulse toward life which we can celebrate.
We can give thanks for being here, being fully alive, and even having the privilege of taking time to do this healing work. To go on a retreat in daily life. To ponder what makes our lives meaningful. Many of our ancestors never had that luxury. Many worked very long hours for little reward and were never able to pause and ask themselves how their own generational connection could bring more wisdom to their lives.
I like to remember as well that in the midst of my ancestors’ struggles there was at least some resilience and courage developed that I have inherited. I may never know what they went through exactly, but I can sometimes feel their sturdiness and how they endured. They too lived through times of war and plague.
Sometimes when I go outside at night and can see the brilliance of the stars, I remember that my ancestors also had moments of wonder and awe standing with face upturned toward the vast expanse of the universe. I remember that they too had moments of delight, of joy, of dancing, no matter how hard their lives were.
Join Simon, Deirdre, and me tomorrow for our Contemplative Prayer Service where we will be honoring the ancestors together.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
PS For more resources for this season of remembrance read my interview in the National Catholic Reporter, interview in Our Sunday Visitor, and article on All Soul’s Day in Religion News Service. I was also interviewed on the Three Association Podcast about art & creativity in spiritual direction. Listen here.
Image © Christine Valters Paintner