Do not hold against us the sins of past generations; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need. – Psalm 79:8 (NIV)
I am reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. The book tells the story of two sisters, Effia and Esi, whose lives are tragically impacted by slavery, greed, and colonialism. Homegoing shows how their experiences influence the paths and outlooks of their descendants.
Homegoing is a powerful illustration of generational trauma. The book spans eight generations. The fears, pain, lessons learned, and lessons forgotten are transmitted from ancestor to descendant.
I cried at the end of one scene when a character decided to leave her village. The woman’s father ran away from his family because he no longer wanted to be part of the slave trade. By running away for his freedom, he taught his daughter freedom wasn’t optional.
Before the daughter left, the father gave her a family necklace—one passed down from her great-grandmother, Effia. He had buried it in the ground after he ran away, to show thankfulness for his new life and new land. When his daughter decided she needed to leave to find her own path, he gave her the necklace.
This scene made me cry because on the other side of generational trauma can be generational healing. We can decide to end painful cycles we’ve learned from family members. We can put care and love into our bodies even though our ancestors weren’t given permission to do so. We can excavate forgotten family lessons while unlearning family dysfunction.
We don’t get a say in our inheritance. But the emotional and spiritual inheritance that we leave behind? Well, that’s another story.
God of many generations, help me heal ancestral wounds while holding tight to ancestral wisdom. Amen.
Marchaé Grair is a spiritual director, facilitator, and the Director of Public Relations and Outreach at the Unitarian Universalist Association. Follow her work at marchae.com.