Cathy Barker

Cathy Barker

What would you like your descendants to know about you?

What has your spiritual journey been like? How have you navigated the difficult times? Where do you find strength?

It's a rare grandchild who will sit down to ask these heartfelt questions, rarer still to record them in some way. I never knew any of my grandparents, since they had all died by the time I was born. (Don't feel sorry for me -- I grew up in the extraordinary intergenerational community called church!)

I do wish I had known something about my forebears' inner lives. Who were the people who inspired them? Why did they make the life choices they made? What was their relationship with the sacred?

These questions and more might be addressed in a legacy letter one can write for one's descendants. I learned about this idea from a curriculum from The Center for Courage and Renewal entitled "The Soul of Aging." In leading this course recently I watched the participants' energies blossom as they began this daunting assignment.

First, they had to discern the recipients; not simple for those of us without children. Once over that hurdle, we began to answer any of the offered questions that begged a response. Some started writing where they knew the answers; others jumped right in on the biggest, deepest explorations.

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We all agreed this would be an ongoing effort, and well worth our journaling time. We heard an account of a woman who had terminal cancer, who undertook to leave a legacy letter to her grandchildren, and ultimately made a video for them. What a gift! We contemplated the richness of our own spiritual lives, wondering how another generation might hear our stories.

In reflecting on this, I took stock of my five nieces and nephews. I believe they would all be very interested in such a letter from me. All of them were raised in mainline Protestant denominations. All of them have searched and found their own spiritual path, varying from Unitarian Universalist to Pentecostal Holiness to Quaker meeting. I can't make any claim that I have inspired them, other than being out there as "My Aunt the Minister." I let the miles between us, keep us distant until my retirement, when it has been a priority to connect and strengthen those ties. Now I could easily imagine a spiritual conversation with any of them over tea.

I will resume the legacy letter project, as a discipline for myself and a continuation of a fruitful self-examination. How on earth did I get through the tough times? What led me to the beliefs I hold dear, and how have they changed over the years -- and why? How has my relationship with God changed -- and why?

My legacy letter could even begin in the form of a prayer. "Dear God, Thank you for this extraordinary life, and for my beloved family, and for your constant love and presence."

The Rev. Cathy Barker is a retired pastor with United Church of Christ.

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