March 2: Touching Seven Generations

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Deuteronomy 5:9 I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

The idea of generational blessing and punishment is not very popular these days. Religious professionals (like me) may feel the urge to soften this a little bit. Surely God does not really mean that sins are punished through the family tree?

But there are many choices that shape lives for generations to come. This passage is not so much a threat or even a promise, as it is a statement of reality.

In the physical world, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Once a bowling ball is released one should not step into its path. The ball does not care if you are a saint or a rounder. It will simply continue on its path.

Spiritual inertia can act the same way.

Native Americans call this the rule of seven generations. Originally this was a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) teaching, but it has become a widespread part of Native beliefs today. Our elders say that we should consider the effects of every action, not just for ourselves, but for seven generations to come.

This is especially true in our treatment of the earth. Before we flatten another forest to make way for another strip mall it is important to ask: if we keep on doing this for seven generations, what will the world be like for our grandchildren? On the other hand, if we can reclaim one small piece of natural beauty, how many generations may be blessed?

Sometimes the elders say we are not at the start of those seven generations, but at the middle. We did not get here by ourselves. Our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents shed blood, sweat, and tears to provide the opportunities we have today. Many of them died before they saw the promise they hoped for, but they trusted that their sacrifice would be blessed because we would walk in a good way to fulfill their promise. Those ancestors are watching—cheering us on—praying that our choices will honor them.

Likewise, our choices are not ours alone. One day our grandchildren and great grandchildren will be touched by the choices we make today. We want to walk in a good way so their lives will be better because of our choices.

As I wander through the backwoods and wilderness of the mountains I often come upon old farms or cabin sites. The old cabins and barns have long since returned to the earth. Even the chimney is fallen and scattered. But one can still tell where the old paths and wagon roads were. The earth remembers every footfall. The flowers still bloom where an unseen hand planted them, perhaps seven generations ago. The land has not forgotten that loving touch.

How will the land remember your footfall? How will seven generations feel your touch? How will you walk today?

O Creator, guide my paths for your name’s sake. Let me walk in a good way so seven generations may be blessed today.

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