A Joyful Path, Year Three – Week 9: Ancestors — Story: Makai Listens For Her Kupuna (Ancestors)

For Classroom or Home School


Week 9: Autumn

Lesson 7: Ancestors

I listen for and honor my ancestors.

Getting to the Heart of the Lesson

NOTE: Many people now living in the United States might connect “ancestor” to their relatives who, a number of generations ago, immigrated from parts of Europe or, more painfully, were brought here on slave ships from Africa. When we say or hear the word “ancestor,” it is important to know that multiple definitions and emotions may surface. Most of us have, within our lineage, ancestors who acted in ways that were unhealthy, harmful, or were part of movements that caused devastation for entire populations of people. This lesson is not about these ancestors, however ancestral healing and reparations are explored later, in Lesson 27. This lesson encourages us to seek and celebrate the spiritual presence of ancestors whom we hold in love.

The Oxford dictionary (1) defines the word, “ancestor” in several ways:

1. A person, typically one more remote than a grandparent, from whom one is descended.

2. An early type of animal or plant from which others have evolved.

How do you define “ancestors’’? Who or what do you think about when you hear or see this word? Do your ancestors connect you with your history? Do they provide you with guidance and support, even from their location in the after-life? Are your ancestors also plants, trees and other animals?

In Japan, across Africa, throughout Indonesia, Estonia, within the nations of Native Americans, and elsewhere, celebrations and rituals for ancestors abound. For the ancient Aztecs, Mictecacihuatl, (their Lady of the Dead deity) evolved and eventually co-mingling with Mexican Catholicism. This co-mingling became the week- long Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) fiesta that has captured imaginations in North America and other places, as well. The Day of the Dead celebration invites us to consider our deceased family members as still very accessible, and emphasizes that the departed want us to remember them.

Sobonfu Somé, a member of the Dagara tribe living in Burkina Faso (West Africa), shared lessons from her home while teaching for several decades in Europe and the United States. Sobonfu said, “In my tradition, ancestors are a part of everyday life, you never exclude them, because whatever is happening in your life, you know they have a part in it. If you think about our ancestors, how many times do we really employ them? The unemployment line is infinite.”

More-than-human Life and elements are also our ancestors: the sun, the moon, the plants, trees and other animals. With this awareness comes greater intimacy and awe as we live within the hugeness of our familial relationships. There are celebrations for Pagans and Christians to honor these Spirits and Supporters from the other side of the veil: Samhain (secularized as Halloween), All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day.

This rich array of rituals and community practices emphasize the incredible wealth we hold by cultivating a connection with our ancestors. Our ancestors are standing at-the-ready to offer counsel and support to help us in our living. Similarly, if we live by sharing our talents, spreading love and generating goodness, when our deaths come – much like the leaves and mulch for top-soil – our lives will be continued sustenance for the life still flourishing. Full circle! In essence, it is after we have died that we become even more helpful to those who are alive.When we do not call on our ancestors now, we have missed out on support from loved ones who are able to bring to us new and changed perspectives.

Teachings across cultures emphasize our ancestors are an ongoing support for each of us: they help us find Life that is healthy, good, and connected.

Teacher Reflection/Activity

Some reading and a 10-20 min exercise (more if you have time and wish to take it) so you are able to experience the teachings offered through this lesson)

In this lesson’s Christian Scripture, we read the words of Paul. For first century Christians, this letter meant Jesus would return, and followers of Jesus would be safe, exempt from death. And then…Jesus did not return, at least not in the way some had foreseen. What had Paul meant?

Every religion and spiritual tradition offers teachings on where we go after we have left our body. What has your ancestry taught you about this? Which teachings feel most helpful? Allow yourself to be curious. As you develop a better understanding of which teachings feel helpful or true for you, you will begin to find ways to fruitfully connect with your legacy, historically and spiritually.

Option One — Create an altar and call upon a beloved ancestor. If this is new for you, begin simply. Call to mind and heart a loved one who has died. It does not need to be a family member, or someone related through biology. It can be a dear friend or a respected teacher.

If you have a photo of this person, place it on your table or altar this week. You might decorate the space with items or symbols this person loved, including offerings of flowers or favorite foods. Perhaps, in a paragraph or two, you will want to write them a short note, thanking them for what they gave you, or telling them how much you miss them. By giving them space in this way, notice if you begin to “see” this person in the world during the week – a piece of music that reminds you of them, a person who resembles their physical features, a dream about them. Welcome this connection. Offer gratitude and ask for their continued presence or support in ways you would like it.

Option Two — If you already feel connected with the family of ancestors, spend some time this week in a way that make sense for you – take a walk to commune with your loved one(s), speak the words or texts that are meaningful for maintaining the connection, visit your places of prayer or other sacred space to listen for their guidance.

Read through the lesson before your time with the children. Decide which Activity Exploration will work best for your class (There are usually two options; choose one.) Just below the heading, “Children’s Lesson and Story” you will find the preparations checklist for this lesson so you can collect any needed materials or make arrangements to support your selected activity.

Sacred Text Quotes

Christian Scriptures.. 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 (NRSV)

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.

Shinto. Nihon Shoki 3

Ah, the spirits of my ancestors have looked down from heaven, watching over and helping me.

Wisdom Quotes

I feel my ancestors calling me in the clouds, in the rain, in the rainbows, in the birds. When we are getting close to home. (2) ― Kala Tanaka, Master Navigator and Wayfinder

What I call myself now is hardly a person at all. It’s mainly a meeting place for various natural forces, desires, and fears, etcetera, some of which come from my ancestors, and some from my education, some perhaps from devils. The self you were really intended to be is something that lives not from nature but from God. ― C. S. Lewis

Be sure to click here to download the Teaching Introduction and Instructions.

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