The Presence of our Ancestors

BY JOSIE DIEBOLD | November 11, 2019
Sunday’s Readings

I am tired.  

In the onslaught of violations against life and dignity that metastasize and loom darkly each day, exhaustion sinks into my heart, head, and body. In this place of weariness, I can too easily lose perspective of my place—of our place—in the arc of history.  

Our ancestors precede us in the fight for justice. Indeed, they continue to be very much alive for us, as well. In the Gospel, we hear that “God is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to God all are alive.” Breathing in the presence of our ancestors is a palpable, powerful, and surprising antidote in today’s world.   

In my weariness, I recall one of my ancestors, Anne Braden, a white antiracist woman who organized in a virulently segregated, racist South. In the 1940s, Anne actively chose to dedicate her life to racial justice—fighting the dehumanization and terrorization waged against communities of color. In her work, Anne was surveilled and identified as too radical, but remained tirelessly dedicated to building and supporting a multiracial movement. She was grounded in the long, messy, and difficult work of bold change, and she forged ahead with vision and intent.  

“…for to God, all are alive.” Though she died in 2006, Anne Braden’s presence continues to be part of my work and community. Our ancestors are the fuel, inspiration, and drive necessary for maintaining persistence, perspective, and gentleness in the face of overwhelming pain, evil, and violence. 

I am tired, and so, I stop to breathe in the continued presence of our ancestors. Their example fills me spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I find a way to get out of bed and continue this transformative and challenging work.  In that spirit, I’ll end with a favorite quote from Anne Braden: 

“An older, African American leader that I respected highly told me I had to make a choice: be a part of the world of the lynchers or join the Other America—of people from the very beginning of this country who opposed injustice, and especially opposed racism and slavery. [He told me] I could be a part of that—that it existed today and offered me a home to live in…I felt like, well, that’s what I wanna be a part of. And so it was a very real concept to me all my life and still is. It is the present incarnation of the movement for social change in my time, but it’s also the connection with a past and a future. [It’s] like you’re part of a long chain of struggle that was here long before you were here, and it’s gonna be here long after you’re gone. And that gives life a meaning.” 

4 replies
  1. Rev. James Flynn
    Rev. James Flynn says:

    Anne and her husband were truly dedicated to racial/social justice here in Louisville, KY – remembered by many of us (some more or less contemporaries) as champions! We breathe their presence.

  2. Bill O'Brien
    Bill O'Brien says:

    Nice reflection you quoted from Anne Braden. Regularly when I begin to pray, I call forward my ancestors … thanks for your reflection which gives added dimension to the effort to be in touch with our ancestors (relatives, saints, etc.). Bill O’Brien, Gesu Parish Detroit

  3. Dr.Cajetan Coelho
    Dr.Cajetan Coelho says:

    Past was not perfect. Present is imperfect. We need to struggle to make the future somewhat perfect.

  4. David Horvath
    David Horvath says:

    Thanks for this excellent reflection. As one who worked with Anne Braden, I think she would be the first to agree with the powerful strength of the ancestors in our work. Standing on their shoulders….


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