People of the Forest and the Book

I went to London and Wales seeking to see my family there, some for the first time and others to get reacquainted, and to find my ancestors. I found both and more.

I spent a delightful evening with family at the oldest pub in London. The laughter was music to my ears and the reunion delightful. I spent an afternoon with my cousin with a branch of my family which had been separated from the branch I knew for nearly eighty years. I stood beside the graveside of my great grandfather in Staunton, England and of other members of my English family. His plot was in the church cemetery where he had been baptized. I visited the churches of my more illustrious grandfather, G. Campbell Morgan, and the small villages where the others, other lost in time, lived and worked as tradesmen.

It is impossible really to convey the feelings I had thinking about those who went before me. I guess you have to be a Morgan or extended family member to understand, just as I would probably need to be a member of your family to understand completely what your origins mean to you.

I thought I would find the roots of my Morgan history having something to do with the sea; after all, in Welsh, Morgan roughly translated means “sea dweller.” But what I discovered were two metaphors to describe my roots–people of the forest and the book.

Many in my heritage lived near the Forest of Dean, parts of which are in both England and Wales. They lived on both sides of the border and migrated from one to the other. Most were farmers and shoemakers and others in the common trades of the time. They were poor and mostly lived in small villages. These were what one Welsh villager called “people of the forest.”

The other side of my lineage were what I call “people of the book.” They were non-conformist ministers, some not affiliated with any denomination. They spoke in small chapels and probably in fields. One became one of the great preachers of the Twentieth Century and spoke before thousands, with eighty of his books and sermons published.

There appeared to be two major streams in my family history, but not entirely unrelated. I felt this one when I looked at the Celtic cross I had brought home from a previous visit. It has a traditional cross but surrounded by interlocking links. One symbolized the Celtic form of Christianity, the other the older religion of people who lived with and learned from the earth, especially the forest. I once thought there two traditions were at odds, now I realize they fed off one another, borrowed symbols and themes from one another, co-existed but not always easily, and over time grew dependent upon one another. In other words, I discovered my own spirituality in the delicate balance of these two streams.

While I don’t consider myself an orthodox Christian (one who lives by creeds and theologies), I have long respected and learned from the life and teachings of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount. And while I often don’t live the ethic of love he taught as well I should, I nonetheless honor and respect him. I don’t appreciate what some Christians have done to Jesus, turning him into a judgmental member of the religious right; but I have never lost my deep respect for the core of his teaching which is, as he indicated, love of God and humanity. At the same time I value the teachings of the earth, of traditions like Taoism, which show us how to live in harmony with one another and our planet. Until this visit, I am not sure I felt how deeply these two traditions are connected.

I don’t make a show of my religion. I don’t go around judges others for what they believe, although I may question how they justify hurting others in the name of God. But I have discovered in my heritage a hint for bringing together two of my traditions and claiming both. And so, if I am brave enough to wear the Celtic cross in public, something I seldom do, I will do so with humility and deeper understanding that I am descendent of people of the forest and the Book. May that serve to remind me of my work and life ahead.




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