Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation
Keeping Faith with Our Ancestors
Keeping Faith with Our Ancestors

Experiencing Ancestors through Grief Rituals

Thursday, November 3, 2022

On The Cosmic We podcast, hosts Barbara Holmes and Donny Bryant interviewed minister and scholar Dr. Walter Fluker, who shares a transformational experience he had during an ancestral grief ritual:

Walter Fluker: We hardly know the grief of our suffering. Certainly among Black people, but it’s true for all of us as you think of the Cosmic We and this universal moan [of suffering]. Even creation is moaning. Why shouldn’t we? . . .

I was involved in a grief ritual on Cortes Island off Vancouver, British Columbia. This island, all of these people from around the world were just going through these rituals. One evening . . . during what the Dagara people called the grief ritual, where we pay our debt to the ancestors through grief, through weeping and moaning that universal moan. . . . So [my friend Malidoma Somé] said just be free, so they started playing the drum and Sobonfu [his wife] was hitting some kind of shaking instrument. I just started getting down. . . . All at once, out of nowhere, my father is there. . . . I fell to my knees and I cried. I said, “Daddy, we miss you.” He had died in 1984.

I had performed a eulogy but never mourned him. I was too busy being me. I said, “Daddy, we miss you. Mama misses you, B. misses you.” I just went through the whole family. When I came to myself, all of the women had taken me to a corner in the room and they were rocking me. This Japanese woman whispers in my ears. She says, “You’re only five years old.” I didn’t know what that meant then. It was years later [that] I discovered, when daddy left Mississippi in a hurry, he sent for us, thanks be to God. I was five years old. I was still grieving my daddy’s departure.

That was one of the most healing moments in my life. He was more real than even in life real. So, I have no doubt that ancestors not only exist, but they are present for us. They come to us in moments of great need and trial, and they also celebrate life’s moments with us. They want to celebrate with us. . . .

Holmes and Bryant invite listeners to give space to their own need to grieve:

Donny Bryant: I guess the question is for our listeners . . . what trauma, what healing, what hurt, what pain that we need to be healed from could benefit from the practice of our own unique grief ritual?

Barbara Holmes: Yes, and how can the organized religious institutions, the churches, the places where we assemble to finally shed some of our arrogance, how can they help us to grieve, to lament, to begin to get free? . . . What are you grieving that you don’t know that you’re grieving? How will you process that grief?


Adapted from Barbara Holmes and Donny Bryant, “Ritual Journeys through Grief and Joy with Dr. Walter Earl Fluker,” September 17, 2021, in The Cosmic We, season 1, episode 4 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021), podcast, MP3 audio.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jeremy Bezanger, Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut (detail), Egypt, photograph, Unsplash. Jon Tyson, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Unsplash. Rasam, Takht-e-Jamshid (Persepolis) (detail), 2020, Iran, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

Image inspiration: Human ancestors leave legacies in physical and cultural bones, while stones carry meaning and memory. How will you listen to the wisdom of your ancestors?

Story from Our Community:

I’d like to share a moment of contemplation I experienced recently. My mother was born in 1914 to a Portuguese farming family in Bermuda, close to where I now live. Some of her fondest memories were natural ones—the rain, wind, the sea, the hoot of an owl, a restless dog, or a galloping horse and rider approaching with a message. One evening, I walked to the dock next to my house, just around the corner from where my ancestors lived. In the silence of the night, I was transported back 100 years to join my ancestors, and I gave thanks. —Sandra R.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.