Book review: Lori Erickson’s ‘The Soul of the Family Tree’

Lori Erickson notes that tracking her family history helped her discover the ancestral spirits that guide her today

Book review: Lori Erickson's

As I read the bewitching new book by Iowa City writer Lori Erickson, I thought of what George Bernard Shaw once said about genealogy: “

In fact, Dancing with Skeletons would be a good subtitle for Erickson’s book, which comes at a good time for all of the newly hatched genealogy fans who have used the pandemic to research their family trees. It also appeals to longtime genealogists who may be surprised at how Erickson brings new levels of meaning to their hobby.

Lori Erickson, author of The Soul of the Family Tree from Iowa City.

“The Soul of the Family Tree” (Westminster John Knox Press, 220 pages) goes far beyond the origins and shows in depth how the spirit of a family endures from generation to generation. Erickson asks a provocative question: “What is more important in the end: our physical characteristics or our inner workings? Whether we can trace our ancestors back several centuries or whether we see ourselves as part of a long line of souls, each of which adds its individual spark to the flame of a much larger spirit? “

This question reached me. I named my daughter “Kate” after a great-aunt who was a gifted seamstress who rose above the dire circumstances caused by her husband’s abuse by raising her family in regal dignity with her crafty needle. So I had no problem answering Erickson’s question about the importance of physical traits over character when we look back on our ancestors. Although my family’s big dark eyes look beautiful in fading photos of Aunt Kate, her mind is even more mesmerizing.

Erickson is also right about the feeling of appreciation in finding out what your ancestors were passionate about and how knowing more about them can deepen our spiritual lives. When I did a DNA test that showed I have more Irish ancestry than I thought I was, I understood why I resonate with a line from a poem by Marianne Moore, Spensers Ireland: “I’m worried, I am dissatisfied, I’m Irish. ”

As I read Erickson’s book, I was interested to know that, unlike mine, her blood was not always drawn from stories of family madness. As a teenager growing up in the small Norwegian-American town of Decorah, she mocked rommegrot (bland Norwegian pudding), cared little about her immigrant farmer ancestors and referred to the town’s annual ethnic festival, the Nordic Fest, as the “Nordic Fester”. . ”Now, however, she is proud of her hard-nosed ancestors and regards Gudrid the long-distance traveler as her spiritual guide. Lori made Gudrid’s acquaintance almost literally by chance on a road trip through Iceland with her loyal husband, Bob, a retired philosophy professor who acts as her chauffeur and records her travels on his popular Instagram account (@ bob.sessions).

Lori and Gudrid meet sweetly

She stopped at a roadside park, where Erickson looked in vain for a toilet, relieved herself on the leeward side of a rock and was captured shortly after by a Gudrid statue. Gudrid’s sprawling adventures are recorded in Icelandic sagas and she was known for her courage, wisdom and kindness. Lori writes: “After taking care of my affairs, I looked with interest at a statue that was standing nearby. It showed a strong and confident looking woman standing on a stylized representation of a Viking longboat. A child was sitting on her shoulder and she was holding it with one hand and looking into the distance with a determined look. “

As the sister-in-law of Leif Erickson, Gudrid gave birth to the first child of European descent in the New World, sailed to Denmark and made a pilgrimage to Rome. Like Gudrid, author Erickson makes it easy. She delivers books on travel and spirituality every two or three years like a mid-century housewife undressing babies. Her other books include Near the Exit: Travels with the Not-So-Grim Reaper, A Clear Look at Death That Makes Life Even More Precious, and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God “. . ”In this bright new book, she brings a light heart, an old soul, and a deep understanding of her subject of how following our genealogy can deepen our spiritual lives.

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