Ever since Alex Haley’s Roots appeared in the 1970s there has been increasing interested in geneology even to the point of television shows where a researcher studies the geneologies of current celebreties.
At a personal level, I have found nothing exciting or dramatic in my own geneology. My ancestors appear to manifest what Marcus Borg refers to as “the obscurity of humble lives”. However, when I stood on the dock in Cobh, Ireland and when I saw a replica of the ships that brought my ancestors here, it gave me a deeper appreciation for how much they suffered to get here and how much I owe to them.
I have also found that it can be interesting to create one’s own spiritual geneology, articulating not only ancestors’ religious affiliations but also any relevant beliefs. Sadly, all my grandparents were dead by the time I was 7 so I did not have the benefit of learning any of their spiritual journeys. But I have been able to fill in a few blanks.
My paternal grandfather was a convert to Catholicism, having been Presbyterian prior to that. I believe he converted so that he could marry my grandmother, a woman with deep Irish Catholic roots. As best I can tell, he remained a practicing Catholic all his life to include sending my father to Catholic schools.
I know a little more about my maternal grandfather. He raised 7 children by himself, having lost my grandmother to the flu epidemic of 1918-19. But, unlike many guilt-ridden Catholics, he went to confession only once a year on the Saturday before Holy Week. He would bathe, put on a suit, then go to the church. He obviously approached that sacrament in a way that was meaningful to him but not necessarily traditionally Catholic. Perhaps I inherited the gene to question from him. How he dealt with the death of my grandmother I don’t know but I suspect it was similar to how my mother dealt with the deaths of my sisters: “Some of us carry crosses heavier than others.”
I have written much about my mother’s faith. It was steel tested in the fires of tragic loss. I did and do not adhere to all her beliefs but have grown increasingly respectful of them.
My father, on the other hand, appears to have been affected by all that I dislike about religion . His journey appears to have been greatly shaped by guilt and fear such that, late in his life, he would comment that his series of strokes were “punishment for my sins.” I suspect he may have viewed the deaths of my sisters in the same way.
Our spiritual beliefs are shaped in many ways. The Linn brothers and Sheila Fabricant have suggested that in fact our image of the God of our understanding is very much shaped by our parents. Thus, if I had abusive parents, I might see God as punishing. If my parents were benevolent but uninvolved, I might see God in a similar way. This too is an important part of one’s spiritual geneology.
I am grateful for the confluence of beliefs that have played a role in my faith journey.
Reflection: What insights into your own journey come from your spiritual geneology?