This summer, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm and Christian educator Debbie Houghton invite readers to get a copy of Diana Butler Bass’s new “Grounded: Finding God in the World” and read along with us. For five weeks, David and Debbie will offer five reflections on Bass’s book with questions to consider. Here’s a link back to Part 1—and to Part 2. This week, Debbie offers Part 3, looking at the sections of Diana’s book on Dirt, Water and Sky …
By DEBBIE HOUGHTON
I have a murky knowledge of my genealogy: two aunts, one on my father’s side and one on my mother’s side were our family’s data bank on the ancestors. They have both passed, and I wish I had listened more closely to their stories of the family.
All I really know is both my mother’s and father’s families hail from the United Kingdom, and both came to Iowa in search of land and opportunity. My father’s side of the family were staunch Methodists, while my mother’s side were Quakers—my grandfather was raised in a Quaker church and graduated from a Quaker high school.
The two sepia photos with this column are my maternal great-grandparents: Lyman and Alice Collins. They look like hard working, silent Quaker farmers, but were, as my mother often recalled, loving and joyful people.
Diana Butler Bass notes the attraction of genealogy and moments of joy and awe we have when we see traits of long-ago relatives in ourselves or in our children. It is of some comfort to know that the genes do live on and present themselves in another generation, in a smile or an ability to solve a puzzle, or in a love of baseball.
Diana says, “If we do not know where we came from or where we are in a story, it is difficult to imagine that we can grasp the meaning and purpose of our own lives.” I better understood my attraction to teaching when I discovered my grandmother was a teacher, and her mother was a teacher. I am carrying on a family tradition and skill—this is where I fit into the world.
We read the genealogies in the Bible with a sense of duty and not discovery–but Diana suggests that the genealogies are where God can be found. As she comments, “Genealogies reveal the quest of ancient people to find a place in the universe and claim divine favor.”
The names in the genealogies represent stories that can make a difference in how we live out our own lives. My Quaker great-grandparents, Lyman and Alice, were farmers with a love of family and community and they passed that on to my grandparents, Ralph and Florence, who then passed it on to my mother, Janet. That was the spiritual DNA she gave to me—it is the glue between my baptism in the Methodist church, and my passion for the study of the Bible and membership in a community that lives and works together to teach us how to be followers of Christ.
God is in my genealogy.
Home arises out of roots; as this quote from Grounded indicates: “Home is a place where God somehow meets us–where we belong.” My home has been in Ann Arbor many years now, and I belong here–professionally, politically, and spiritually.
I have had homes in places where belonging was harder to feel. One that stands out for me was in Sweden. When our children were small, we moved to Sweden for a few years, due to my husband’s job. We had an adventure living in that beautiful country and the experience drew the four of us together as a family unit, but it was a challenge in belonging. I learned how it felt to not know the culture, mores or even the language of the country in which you lived. I also missed my spiritual home. All I could find for “church” was a group of expat women who were much more conservative in their theology than I was in mine. But although we did not agree about marriage equality or salvation, that group’s hospitality and kindness to me taught me that I could find God—and home—in the most unexpected places.
Where is God in the home?
I think this final photo shows some of the answer for me. I bought this wall hanging on the island of Iona, in Scotland. Iona is special; often it is referred to as a “thin” place, where God is very near to us. I hung this by my door to remind me that every home can be a thin place, if we pay attention. Home is a place to welcome the weary, feed the hungry, and learn the habits of kindness.
I think this quote from Grounded best illustrates God-with-us at home: “The world first enters into our hearts at home, where we learn to live with others and experience the power of mercy.”
Home is our first experience of finding God—it should be where we belong.
How do you resemble your ancestors? Think about family traits that have been passed on throughout your family.
What makes up your spiritual DNA?
What is sacred in your home? Think about practices or belongings that are special to you.
Have you ever felt home was not a place of belonging for you? Why?
Diana comments that hospitality and gratitude are spiritual habits – how do you practice these in your home?
Debbie Houghton is a former English teacher, now reborn as a director of adult education for the First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor. She is always looking for new ideas about faith and spirituality to share with her church family!