Or The People Who Guide Us
This is a photo of Ruth, Ethel, and Isabel, my grandmother and her two sisters, taken around 1910, in Youngstown, Ohio, where all three girls were born. I love the quality of the early twentieth century black and white portrait photography. This image gives me a feeling of three human stories suspended in time.
The large hair bows were a style of the day. I’ve seen them in illustrations of children’s books from the same period. The girls’ lacy cotton blouses must have taken careful ironing. Their lockets were a classic touch. I have Ethel’s locket and sometimes wear it.
Ethel was the serious thinker. Isabel was the sweet spirit. Ruth was the planner and organizer. I knew them only as older ladies. Ethel was a frail wisp. Isabel I barely remember. She died of a stroke when I was seven or eight. My grandmother Ruth was part of my life for many years. She and the aunties were excellent women who influenced me both by the way they treated me and the way they treated my father as he was growing up. They belonged to a church. They attended to their obligations. They showed consistent love to their families.
I took their influence for granted. I was lucky to have the security of family support. Most of the people who helped raise me were good ancestors. I had the privilege of growing up in comfort instead of hardship, and order instead of confusion.
As we go on our way in the world we may make some choices we regret. I’ve felt the need for guidance that went beyond what I learned from my family. Sometimes, I pushed for what I thought was important to me at the time and ignored what was right.
When I looked for spiritual guidance, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I needed. I didn’t even know I was searching for guidance, but grace came to me in the form of ordinary people.
Decades ago, I joined a church and was immediately invited to into a women’s Bible study led by a member named Donna. Donna didn’t do anything unusual. She had standard study guides we used when we met one evening a week. I think we read the Book of Acts.
Being invited into Christian fellowship was the most meaningful aspect of the Bible study. Somehow, it confirmed me in my identity as a Christian and made me feel like I belonged.
The group included a young woman whose mother was dying of cancer. I had never experienced being part of a support group for someone in that situation. We helped this woman, but the fact that she accepted us as helpers was a good thing for us too.
Having this experience didn’t make me consciously search for spiritual guidance, but it taught me to tune into a sort of spiritual frequency. I still didn’t have a plan, but the desire to find guidance helped me sense it when I encountered it.
Most of us encounter challenges that take us beyond whatever we learned in our family. It’s a good idea to keep our eyes open for a person who might help us along the way.
There’s a pattern in some fairy tales where a group of brothers or sisters has to leave home on an adventure. Typically, the oldest goes out first into the wide world. On the way, they meet a strange old person who either asks them for help or gives them advice. They breeze past this person, seeing them as useless. Soon, though, the young person runs into a problem that can’t be solved and fails to complete the adventure.
The pattern is repeated with the second sibling. Finally, the youngest sibling leaves home. They see the strange old person on the path, and they stop to do whatever that person asks of them. Of course, this is the key to the adventure. The old person either tells them how to go about their task, or gives them a magic token that will protect and help them.
This type of story comes up in many places and cultures. One interpretation is that we learn to face life’s greatest challenges from those who have gone before us.
In a faith community, grace puts us in touch with good ancestors, if we are alert for them. Times of reflection and prayer will calm our busy thoughts so that we can hear the still, small voice of God. Grace and peace to all who listen for that voice!