There are those who assert that we carry our ancestors within us. The new TV programs emphasizing ancestral heritage illustrate the interest many people have in discovering their roots. Are our ancestors living within us? Are they shaping who we are and the lives we live? Is it true that, “a living being must always contain within itself the history, not merely of its own existence but all of its ancestors?” Is it possible that some of those “other fellows” within me (that I mentioned a few days ago) could be my great grandfather or great grandmother?
Nikos Kazantzakis was convinced that within him and through him, his ancestors continued to live, sometimes even speaking through him. Emerson wrote, “In different hours, a man represents each of several of his ancestors, as if there were seven or eight of us rolled up in each man’s skin,—seven or eight ancestors at least, and they constitute the variety of notes for that new piece of music which his life is.” Carl Jung reported feeling, “I am under the influence of things or questions which were left incomplete and unanswered by my parents and grandparents and more distant ancestors…..It has always seemed to me that I had to answer the questions which fate had posed to my forefathers, and which had not yet been answered, or as if I had to complete, or perhaps, continue, things which previous ages had left unfinished.” Could it be? We know now that we have the genes and traits of our ancestors in our physical bodies. Do we also have their living presence within our souls?
What complex creatures we are! It is not easy to assimilate all the many voices within us. It is the work of a lifetime and I believe it is a very important work that cannot be ignored if we wish to be all we are meant to be.
Likewise, as our ancestors cry out, along with the other selves within us, there is another Presence, another Voice, which disturbs us, whose dwelling is within each of us. This Voice, too, cries. Thomas Kelly tells us in A Testament of Devotion, “Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice…” Elton Trueblood writes: “A Christian is a person who confesses that, amidst the manifold and confusing voices heard in the world (and within oneself) there is one Voice which supremely wins his full assent, uniting all his powers, intellectual and emotional, into a single pattern of self-giving. That Voice is Jesus Christ.”
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“Who am I?” writes Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his prison cell. “They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God,I am Thine!”