Lineage and Soul
A short message related to Matthew 1:1-17 and All Saints/Souls Day
Lineage matters to the Soul
As a resource for learning, healing, and empowerment
As a connection to Life and Spirit
A record of the ancestors of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham:
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac.
Isaac was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar.
Perez was the father of Hezron.
Hezron was the father of Aram.
4 Aram was the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.
Nahshon was the father of Salmon.
5 Salmon was the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.
Boaz was the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth.
Obed was the father of Jesse.
6 Jesse was the father of David the king.
David was the father of Solomon,
whose mother had been Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.
7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam.
Rehoboam was the father of Abijah.
Abijah was the father of Asaph.
8 Asaph was the father of Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat was the father of Joram.
Joram was the father of Uzziah.
9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham.
Jotham was the father of Ahaz.
Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.
10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh.
Manasseh was the father of Amos.
Amos was the father of Josiah.
11 Josiah was the father of Jechoniah and his brothers.
This was at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12 After the exile to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
14 Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Achim.
Achim was the father of Eliud.
15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
16 Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary—of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Christ.
17 So there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen generations from the exile to Babylon to the Christ.
For the word of God in Scripture
For the Word of God among us
For the word of God within us
I grew up Protestant with an early teaching about not worshiping ancestors. I guess it was one of several lessons to distinguish us from Roman Catholics (of whom I knew none) who seemed to name and look up to a lot of people other than Jesus. And in my home church I didn’t really understand why I had to listen to long boring lists of strange names of who begat who like the list we just heard that opens Matthew’s Gospel. Later I learned that Matthew’s author had a purpose to show his listeners that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish and kingly, and that God was working a plan for Good News. This plan included surprising stories and unexpected people. Matthew’s audience would have known those names and remembered their stories. It wasn’t as boring to them as it was to me as a kid.
With apologies for the excessive focus on patriarchs, let’s just say that Matthew knew lineage was important for his storytelling purposes.
I’ve learned that lineage is also important for the soul’s enlivening and enriching, for the soul’s liberation and loving. I credit my mentors and teachers, including lovers of myth, teachers of depth psychology, and First Nation people who revere their ancestors for that learning.
In a few moments we will celebrate a brief ritual of Totenfest.
Totenfest is a distinctive practice that grows out of the Evangelical Church side of the United Church of Christ. It has deep German roots. Indeed, Totenfest is a German word that means “Feast of the Dead” or “Festival for the Dead.” It was established in 1816 by Prussian Emperor Fredrick William III as a day to remember that nation’s soldiers who had died in the recently concluded Prussian War.
Totenfest became an important observance in the Evangelical Church in Prussia (established by the same emperor in 1817) as a day to remember not only the war dead, but also church members who had died in the previous year. We have associated it with the other similar church traditions of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. These are all practices of lineage connection.
There is wisdom in this commemoration and connection, food for the soul. And that’s what I want to briefly share with you this morning: the importance of lineage connection for the life of the soul.
Let’s use our imaginations to touch into this truth of lineage and soul:
Take a nice deep and easy breath and settle in to where you are. I encourage you to close your eyes and engage your imagination.
Imagine your parents standing behind you, mother on the left and father on the right. If had parents of the same gender or gender non-conforming, place them where it feels right to you. (If you’ve been adopted, place your birth parents there as well as those who raised you.) Settle in for a moment. See how that feels. Imagine gently leaning back into them. Any resistance? Any negative blocks? Make note of that. Now imagine the next generation standing similarly behind your parents. Again, note what you feel. And so on and so on until there is a massive pyramid of people, one generation behind the next, stretching into the horizon.
In this great generational pyramid of people and stories, there is all of humanity; truth and deceit, courage and cowardice, foolishness and wisdom, tragedy and triumph. It’s important for each one of us to come to a kind of peace with our family lineage. Making peace with this lineage and accepting it does not mean condoning its painful parts, the wounding actions and life denying behaviors of those in it, including our parents. Coming to peace means accepting being human, and their being human, and appreciating whatever you can, even if that is only appreciating the gift of life and the chance to have your life now in your time and to make your own choices, some of which may even be to heal the past which is still present.
So just pause for a breath, contemplate this pyramid and note how you feel about it. Ask for God’s grace and peace to be with you and your lineage. And I’m happy to connect with you and support you further if this image raises painful and unsettling feelings for you.
Allow this pyramid of family ancestors to fade into the mist of your mind’s eye.
There is second image I invite you into. Imagine making a lineage pyramid of the saints, the saints that inspire you. This is a pyramid of choice. I invite you now to fill in such a pyramid, imagining all the saints from all the ages and from any faith tradition who have inspired you, a spirit family who can be wind and support at your back. I can imagine Martin Luther King and JoAnn Robinson, a member at King’s first church who encouraged him. I can imagine St. Francis and Clare. I can imagine Gandhi behind me and Wangari Maathai of Africa. I can imagine some people at my hometown church and a college chaplain. I can imagine others who stood up for marginalized people and Creation. I can imagine mentors and teachers. Build your own spirit family right now. Fill it up with those who can support you as an inspiring example and a presence. In your mind’s eye, look back at all these, living or dead, and receive the blessing of these saints.
And, in your mind’s eye, turn back around and gently lean back into it. Feel its support. Receive that support. Take a deep breath and anchor that in you.
And now turn forward and see the younger ones and those yet to come, generation after generation forward, children, nieces and nephews, children of the community and larger world. Know that they are an extension of your lineage, of human lineage, of life’s lineage. Send love to them. Pray for them and commit to act for them and their world.
Now take another full and easy breath and gently come back from that imaginal space.
These lineage images and journeys are a kind of prayer practice that can show us where we can get strength and where wounds persist and need God’s grace and healing. When we do that healing work, we can release more love and energy and freedom for our lives now. Looking forward helps us locate where we are and give us perspective on what is important. Please, talk to me if you want to know more about this process.
Furthermore, being in the connection to lineage reminds the soul that we are not the originators of life, but recipients of life participating in a great chain of life where life is in some way living us, coming through each of us. Our culture has so often defaulted to individual power and choice of the individual that it has neglected a deep spiritual truth that we are in a great river of life not of our making. There is much that we do not choose. God so often chooses us and calls us. Spirit is moving in us and around us in a great lineage of life. God can move in our lineages of family and faith even amidst the painful passages. The soul needs a real connection to that Great Lineage of Life, human and beyond. We are all called by God to cultivate our gratitude for the lineage of life and to serve its healing and vitality. AMEN