Spiritual ancestors

April 5, 2006 | 5 comments
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Last year in Sunday School, as we were finishing up the Doctrine and Covenants, the teacher asked us what the spirit of Elijah meant to us. I immediately thought: “the spirit of adoption.” I’m not sure where that thought came from, but I have continued to think about it in the past few months.

We know that Elijah was sent to reveal the priesthood, which includes the priesthood power to seal children to parents. This includes, of course, the sealing of adopted children to parents.

We also know “that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children,” as the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote. The welding link is temple work for the dead. Why is this so necessary?

Work for the dead will continue throughout the millenium. Our goal is to perform the necessary ordinances for all human beings who have ever been born on this earth. This means that in the end, all of those who accept these ordinances will be linked in one enormous family network. Perhaps this is necessary, and not just a byproduct of the necessity of offering ordinances to all God’s children for mercy’s sake. Perhaps to inherit celestial glory I really need to be sealed to father Adam and mother Eve.

Like most Mormons who have received a patriarchal blessing, I have been told that I am a descendent of Israel, through one of his sons. When I was young, I was sure that this meant that I was directly descended from him. I learned later that patriarchal blessings could also say that a person had been adopted into one of the twelve tribes of Israel. My own blessing did not talk about adoption, but since my family has been in this church for quite a while, maybe it was one of my blood ancestors who was adopted. (I have never tried to find old patriarchal blessings to see if any of my ancestors were told that they were adopted into the house of Israel.)

This idea bothered me a bit, because I wanted to think of myself as a literal descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Of course, according to some scholars, I probably am, and so are you. But that’s another discussion.) But after thinking to myself in Sunday School that the spirit of Elijah is the spirit of adoption, I am bothered much less.

I don’t have to be related to someone by blood for them to be important to me, or for me to think of them as my people. None of my blood relatives fought in the Revolutionary War, but there is still one side I consider my own. Likewise the Civil War. None of my kin fought to preserve the Union, but I feel a kinship somehow to those who lived and died to make men free.

As I walk through the streets of Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston, I see monuments and memorials to the sacrifices and struggles of great men and women, and I am compelled to pause and reverently thank God for what they did. I thank God that I have inherited the land that they built. Even if I have no relation to George Washington or Abigail Adams or Abraham Lincoln, I consider them my spiritual ancestors. I have adopted them as my forbears. Even if I am not related to them, even if I am not sealed to them, these are my people.

Who are your spiritual ancestors? Who have you adopted?

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5 Responses to Spiritual ancestors

  1. JA Benson on April 5, 2006 at 11:52 am

    Thank you for a wonderful thought provoking post. Like you I have many heroes throughout history. I would like to think that when I die I will be able to visit with people of whom I have admired. This list consists of historical figures and blood ancestors. What a wonderful thought that we are of the same family!
    Joan of Arc is one woman I admire. I would like to talk with her and learn about her amazing faith and strength.
    Early LDS pioneers. I am descended from many of them. A couple of pioneers who are not related to me, but I enjoy reading about them are Emmeline B. Wells and Ruth May Fox.
    My current favorite historical topic is the Abolitionist Movement. I am proud to be descended from early UGRR participants. Through my research I have come to admire the Coffin family, Samuel E. Cornish, Fredrick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and countless others. I wonder at their zeal and tenacity in enduring years of stress amid great danger.
    Near our home is a southern civil war battlefield. Through research I found that I have a very distant cousin Lt. Thomas A. Duvall (CSA) who died not more than 2 miles from my home. Thomas A. died childless. In his early twenties he was almost a child himself. He was his parent’s youngest child. Both of whom died shortly after he did. We remember him at our house and have made him ours, but only in thought. Because he is so distant of a relative we are unable to do his temple work. We hope that some day we will be able to do this for him.

  2. Stephen M (Ethesis) on April 5, 2006 at 1:09 pm

    This idea bothered me a bit, because I wanted to think of myself as a literal descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Of course, according to some scholars, I probably am, and so are you. But that’s another discussion.) But after thinking to myself in Sunday School that the spirit of Elijah is the spirit of adoption, I am bothered much less.

    I don’t have to be related to someone by blood for them to be important to me, or for me to think of them as my people. None of my blood relatives fought in the Revolutionary War, but there is still one side I consider my own. Likewise the Civil War. None of my kin fought to preserve the Union, but I feel a kinship somehow to those who lived and died to make men free.

    I’ve often wondered if we are children of Adam as we are children of Abraham.

    Interesting thoughts.

  3. An on April 5, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    My spiritual ancestors – fascinating. Some are my literal ancestors – Mormon midwife Patty Sessions and her son Perregrine, and a handcart pioneer woman who married Perregrine, Sarah Crossley. It’s when I read or consider their stories that I feel most Mormon. They are my people, my roots, literally, and that helps me keep my spiritual roots, also.

    But the spirit of adoption also means a lot to me. I’m really lucky and blessed to have its type in my life in a very concrete way; I’m an adoptive mother to two sons.

    There’s not a bit of Lehi’s blood in me (well, maybe a little tiny bit — one line on the pedigree reads “Father Was an Indian – No More”) but Samuel the Lamanite is dear to my heart. He’s a perfect example of God’s caring less for our ancestry or our skin color than for our choice of Him as our Father. He was one reason for naming our first little brown-skinned boy Samuel.

    My second son is named Abraham. He was born in May 2001. We named him thinking of Abraham Lincoln’s role in freeing African-American slaves, and of the complicated and somewhat mysterious figure of Father Abraham. By the time he was sealed in our family and blessed by his dad in January 2002, the world had changed. We all yearned for the world to see that Isaac’s children and Ishmael’s were not so very different. The name took on new meaning — it was the source point, the place of unity, the time before that great rift.

  4. Wacky Hermit on April 5, 2006 at 10:22 pm

    My kids have literal ancestors from the Philippines and Portugal and from among the Jews of Eastern Europe. But since they’ve grown up LDS in Utah, their cultural heritage includes the pioneers, even though none of their literal ancestors lived in America (let alone Utah) during the pioneer era. I don’t see anything wrong with claiming an adopted cultural heritage as well as a literal descendancy; in fact it’s the American way. There would be no America without people of different ancestries claiming a common cultural heritage.

  5. E. Antone Madsen on April 9, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    We also know “that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children,� as the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote. The welding link is temple work for the dead. Why is this so necessary?

    I would like to comment on the question that you propose regarding the mission in the last days of the Prophet Elijah and the “turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers”.

    I like your analogy of adoption, particularly so since my two sons are adopted, but I also believe that, while you have recognized the importance of temple work for the dead, you may have missed the importance and deminsion of the work to be done there during our life time and the 1,000 years to come.

    Consider for a moment the countless billions of our Heavenly Father’s children that have lived throughout the world since Adam that had absolutely no knowledge or awareness of the truths of the gospel that we have. Most have not even ever heard of Christ, much less His divine mission.
    There are, and have been, entire nations in the continents of Asia, Africa, Australia and throughout the world where individuals and families were born, lived their lives, and died without any knowledge of the Plan of Salvation.
    Even during the life of Abraham, how many people knew of God’s plan for us. Did the Israelites ever fully comprehend the role of Christ, or their Savior of any sort, in their eternal well being? Only a handful of people surrounding Christs earthly ministry had a knowledge of the truth, and that light went out during the apostasy within a few generations. Possibly millions on this continent truly understood the gospel, as written in the Book of Mormon. But even counting the members of the Church today (12.5 million out of an earthly population in excess of 5 billion souls) perhaps as few as 100 million of the estimated 60 billion people that have lived on the earth since Adam have ever known the truth.
    Can you imagine the discussion during the council in heaven before the creation of the earth when it was understood that only an infinitely small percentage of the children of God on the earth would ever even hear of the Gospel during this life, or even the name of Christ at all?
    The only way that these individuals would even agree to come to the earth was with the promise that, in the last days, an army of missionarys would be raised that would undertake the responsibility of taking the truth to all who have ever lived and who now reside in the spirit world awaiting their opportunity to hear the gospel. (see D&C 138 the entire section particularly vs. 53-60)
    Perhaps now you can appreciate the extent of the work we must do in the future and the fact that the vast majority of our brothers and sister that have ever lived on the earth are depending on this dispensation to prepare for the massive work yet to be done on their behalf. Indeed, if we fail to do this work and all of these individuals are denied the opportunity of participating in the atonement, then we would have failed in the work not only of this dispensation but also for every dispensation from Adam, and deserve to be smitten with a curse.
    I hope this has not been too long.
    E. Madsen