Listening to God and the Ancestors

Last summer I read a book called Of Water and Spirit by Malidoma Patrice Some. He is a Shaman of the Dagari tribe from what is now Burkina Faso. This book stretched my thinking as he described experiences that are, frankly, hard to believe as a westerner. In order to get through the book I chose to suspend my disbelief. This enabled me to feel and hear the truth that he wrote.

It was Monday and I was sitting with my daughter, Jessica, in the campus center at Hiram College. I had been to a funeral that morning for a friend of mine who died of liver cancer. He was 47 and left two children and a wife. At the start of the presentation, a professor stood up and announced the death earlier in the day of a student who had been in an auto accident a couple of weeks ago. He called for a moment of silence and then introduced the featured speaker, Shaman Malidoma Patrice Some.

As Malidoma Some began to speak he refused to jump into a prepared speech but instead made two important comments:

1.) In the event of a death in his community, the Dagari community, everything would stop and the community would deal with their grief.

2.) When a trauma, like the death of this student happened, the ancestors are trying to get the attention of their community. He said that it behooves those of us in the community to try to figure out what the ancestors are trying to tell us.

As I listened to the accented voice of the shaman, the death of my 47-year-old friend swirled about my head. Images of the day, of the tears, of the children, of fellow community members popped into my head like a slide show at high speed. What was the message I could take from the death of my friend? What is it that I can learn from this trauma? Bobby, my friend, was certainly a beloved member of our church community. He led a life of quiet kindnesses to others and a deep father’s love for his children.

Malidoma Some proceeded to talk at length about the ancestors and about their help and interest in helping the living if we would but listen. He talked about the ancestors as the spectators in a stadium with us as the players and the ancestors cheering our every success. He talked about the ancestors as standing behind us gently nudging us in the right direction or whispering and hoping we would go the direction that would bring us and our community happiness. Is Bobby now an ancestor whispering in our ears? Is his spirit encouraging us, me, to do more quiet kindnesses for others?

As I reflected on his talk I found that while Malidoma’s terminology was different than mine, the essence of what he spoke about was consistent with my Christian beliefs. Instead of the “ancestors” I would use the term Holy Spirit or simply God to describe the loving power that is interested in our well-being. Perhaps, last summer when I suspended my disbelief reading his book I was really opening myself up to the Holy Spirit and the ancestors.

Today I pray that I can continue to suspend my disbelief and open myself up to the Holy Spirit and the ancestors.

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