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Keeping Faith with Our Ancestors
Keeping Faith with Our Ancestors

Nature: Our First Ancestor

Friday, November 4, 2022

Once we know that the entire physical world around us, all of creation, is both the hiding place and the revelation place for God, this world becomes home, safe, enchanted, offering grace to any who look deeply. —Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ

Patty Krawec, an Anishinaabe and Ukrainian writer and activist, invites us to consider the land itself as our original ancestor:

I want us to consider our relationship with land. . . . To think of ourselves as a part of creation rather than apart from it. What if the land is a being in its own right? That concept is not as foreign as you might think. And what if the land and all that grows from it and on it and in it are sentient beings in their own right? . . .  

When I say that the land is my ancestor, that is a scientific statement: I want to reflect again on this claim by Dr. Keolu Fox, a Kānaka Maoli anthropologist and genomic researcher. The land itself and the conditions of that land, like altitude and climate, impact our genome just as our human ancestors do. We are born on it, die on it; we come from it and return to it. The land and the waters, oceans and rivers, are part of us, relatives and ancestors in a very real way. . . .

Our emotions have a physical response. We feel sadness, and our body responds by crying. In the ancient Middle East, drought was often connected with mourning as the land’s physical response to an emotional state. Just as a Hebrew mourner would fast and pour dust over their head and body, so, too, the land expresses her grief by fasting and covering herself in dust. “Human action has caused desolation and destruction,” Mari Joerstad writes. “Further proof of human perfidy is their inattentiveness to the suffering of other creatures. The earth is left with no option but to cry directly to YHWH.” [1] . . .

The land mourns, but it also responds with joy. The same prophets who describe a land fasting and covering herself with dust in response to human wrongdoing and harm also describe beautiful scenes of rejoicing and jubilation upon the return of the people. “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom,” the prophet Isaiah says [Isaiah 35:1].

Krawec tells her readers of an ancient Anishinaabe prophecy that envisioned a choice between two paths for the future: one scorched and barren, the other green and fertile:

Remember the two paths of the Seventh Fire—one parched and blackened and the other green and lush. How we prepare now will determine what comes next: either a healing fire that brings wild strawberries and lush pathways or a charred landscape that cuts our feet. For Indigenous people, that means holding on to the knowledge of our ancestors. For the light-skinned people, that means making the right choices about how to live.


[1] Mari Joerstad, The Hebrew Bible and Environmental Ethics: Humans, Nonhumans, and the Living Landscape (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019, 2021), 143. Emphasis added by Krawec.

Patty Krawec, Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future (Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2022), 126, 136–137, 138, 142.

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.


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