Our ancestors’ stories invite us to reflect on God’s faithfulness

Written by Andrea Nwabuike

Throughout my academic career, history class were my least favourite subject. I preferred to daydream instead of listening to lectures on political schisms and war strategies. My memory refused to take hold of significant dates and key figures. I understood the necessity of studying the past, especially in connection to the present. However, the Canadian history I was taught was so limited in scope that it felt like it had little to do with me. The only note-worthy characters were white men and women. In my classes, full of black and brown students, we knew this was not our history.

But every February, my relationship with history changed. Black History Month at school and church was an experience marked by reflection and celebration. My peers and I had hard conversations about the horrors of slavery and colonization while being cautioned against limiting Black history to stories of suffering. We explored the great kingdoms of Africa and the resilience and ingenuity of the African diaspora. Various art forms were used to tell stories of Black innovation and achievement. We imagined a future for ourselves, informed by the lessons of the past and fueled by a rebellious hope. This was my history, a story I could locate myself in. When my study of history became personal, I couldn’t help but respond in worship.

The preservation of history is a Christian discipline, one that gives us a clearer understanding of the human condition and an intimate experience of God’s character. But instead of an abstract or distant study of history, as I received in many of my classes, a personal engagement with history allows me to see who God is up close.

My confidence in God’s faithfulness grows when I read about the deliverance of my ancestors from bondage. I am emboldened to approach the throne of grace with my needs and desires when I see his fulfillment of promises made to the previous generations. And at the communion table, as I meditate on the breaking of Jesus’s body and the spilling of his blood, I am assured again of the love of my Saviour and the hope of the gospel. My relationship with God today is built on the foundation of his relationship with those who have come before me.

When we neglect the discipline of steeping ourselves in history, our grasp on God’s character loosens, causing our worship to falter. That is why Moses instructed Israel to “take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Deuteronomy 4:9, ESV).

Keeping our souls requires us to ground our faith in the stories of old so that we can remain assured that even as our circumstances change, God will always remain the same.

I was fortunate to have teachers and mentors who prioritized Black History Month, but not everyone is as lucky. For the Israelites, distance from their homeland, time and the forgetfulness of their own hearts threatened to disconnect them from the history of God’s faithfulness. They had to fight to hold on to the past through the feasts, festivals and record keeping. We too can find connections to the past by cultivating daily and yearly rhythms of remembrance and that connect us to our heritages and histories. In a similar way, Lent and Advent are intentional seasons of reflection and meditation. Our worship of God can reach new depths in the observance of cultural calendars.

In his short story Sonny’s Blues, American writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin writes, “For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”

I agree with Baldwin on the necessity of listening to and telling our stories but it is not the tale in and of itself that is the light in our darkness. It is the God who delivers us from our suffering, joins us in our delight, and secures our triumphs that is the source of our light. History is the practice of storytelling and storytelling is an invitation to respond to God’s continued faithfulness in worship and adoration.

Andrea Nwabuike is a Nigerian-Canadian mental health counsellor and writer living in Toronto, Ont. Read more from “Church of many cultures.”