Ancestral Threads

Perusing Etsy after the second pandemic cancelation of our Scotland holiday, I came across an 1839 etching of the Custom House in Greenock, Scotland. Without any photographs or material culture from my maternal grandfather, this became a de facto thread to my past. Having hung in my office, this print now hangs in my home workspace in Oregon.

A vision. An image. A thread.

The Beacon, Custom House Quay, Greenock, Scotland

With the trains shut down today, my plans became fluid. Leaving the flat, I thought I might catch a bus – the rain was blowing sideways – but my feet had other plans. I lurked briefly at the bus stop before heading in the opposing direction on foot. Lured by a passing ship, I soon found myself walking along the shore toward the Custom House quay.

An opening. Beneath consciousness, another thread.

Sometimes I encounter ideas so radical to my way of thinking that I need to suspend my own beliefs. That was the case as I opened the pages of Malidoma Patrice Somé’s Of Water and the Spirit a decade and a half ago. It became necessary to suspend my western beliefs about life, death, and relationship to comprehend his message. Wrote Somé, “Healing comes when the individual remembers his or her identity, the purpose chosen in the world of ancestral wisdom, and reconnects with that world of Spirit.”

Time spirals. Before is now. Threads becoming.

Having spent years (a lifetime?) being who others expect me to be, I resigned from my pastorate at the end of May. During the pandemic, I did what was good and right to keep my congregation safe, often at the expense of my own physical and mental health. At the end of June, I began a pilgrimage of reset, which brought me back to myself. In the words of my spouse, “I have my Timmy back!” My equilibrium was restored after a journey across North America and back home.

Threads of restoration add their authenticity to the emerging tapestry.

I began planning a sabbatical before I resigned from my pulpit. My awareness of research on the biological markers of generational trauma, the experience of leading a church through two years of active pandemic, and personal genealogical research opened my eyes to trauma within my own family, particularly that experienced by my maternal grandfather. I planned to open myself to the intuitive world – the spiritual bond – as I delved into the research and impact of trauma. I planned for three months. That was before I resigned.

Ripping out linear threads, faith, and open-mindedness lead to an authentic vision.

Placing myself physically in the Scottish town where my grandfather was born and grew to adulthood was an intuitive act. Obviously, I could do the linear studying from any place, but something transcendental insisted. Despite my resignation, despite the cost when I should be economizing, my now self-funded sabbatical must be here in Greenock. Rational? Perhaps not.

Freed from a return date to a congregation, my sabbatical becomes intuitive and authentic. Neither the expectation of others and my need to please nor traditional religion and thinking control me. Rather, I am open to the ancestors – the divine One – who nudges me toward becoming. I am part of healing beyond myself. My journey becomes a balm for those who came before and will come after.

Walking the streets of this sacred place in my ancestral story opens me to the spirit of my ancestors. Gazing out the window of my flat last week, long-held and unknown grief burst out of me. As I watched the gulls in the ever-changing Scottish weather, I began audibly asking the grandfather I never knew questions. I ached for him. Anger at my deceased mother for keeping us apart emerged from within me. (This was a surprise to me.)

Threads of trauma and anger, threads of hope and peace, all begin to form something I never imagined.

I learned from my time living in West Virginia and Kentucky the power and importance of place[1]Appalachian culture includes a deep and abiding connection to the land and place that they call home.. Repeatedly, my presence in this place has led to both linear and intuitive learning. I have touched reproductions of the newspaper death notice of my great-grandmother’s death. It confirmed my online genealogical research. I have had deep feelings about the streets where I know my ancestors walked. (See The Street Where She Was Born and A Deep Yearning for Connection; Finding Joy in Cobblestones.) Being here matters to me. I am in a thin place between the earthly and my ancestors.

Leaving the flat, I thought I might catch a bus – the rain was blowing sideways – but my feet had other plans. Finding myself before the Custom House, the vision of my becoming, the ancestral threads seemed a little more vibrant in color and creation.


1 Appalachian culture includes a deep and abiding connection to the land and place that they call home.


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