My grandfather on my mom’s side (known as Papa) was a veterinarian who loved horses. Papa raised and trained quarter horses for show around the southeast, and as he got older and they got older, those horses tended to just live out their years in a large pasture full of grass, pecan trees, and host of Australian shepherds that loved nothing more than barking at the horses and avoiding their kicks. I can still remember the times we’d ask him to saddle up horses so we could we ride for a few minutes only to get bored and want to go and do something entirely different.
Another thing thing I distinctly remember from their house is that over the door to the kitchen, and maybe other doors as well, there was always a horse shoe nailed to the wall. I remember asking them one day why it was there, and the answer I got was simply, “It’s there for good luck.”
As a kid, I just took that as truth and never really questioned it or thought anything more of it. After all, grandparents speak a truth older than time: They liked horses and the horseshoe was good luck.
Until thinking about Dunstan and trying to find out something, anything, new to say about this once-beloved tenth century archbishop, I hadn’t thought about those horseshoes at all. While reading some of the legends passed down about Dunstan about his feuds with the devil, one included a time when he re-shoed the cloven hoof of the devil, obviously causing great pain. Dunstan would only remove it if the devil promised never to enter a room with a horseshoe above the entrance!
That sneaky Saint Dunstan pulled a fast one, and the legend of the lucky horseshoe found new life in the Christian tradition.
Now, my grandparents were not liturgical people. I don’t know if they’d ever heard of Saint Dunstan or the legend of him fighting with the devil. I know they never shared it with us. My grandmother had what I think we’d call a frustrating relationship with the Lord, while Papa was as faithful a church attender and reader of the Bible as you’d find. And yes, somewhere along the way, they’d heard a horseshoe was a sign of good luck, a centuries old symbol of our faith, and there may have been more horseshoes over doors than crosses in their house.
As Episcopalians, we tell a story every time we gather around the table for Holy Communion. And as people at least interested enough to check in here occasionally, we appreciate the stories passed down to us, the stories that help inform who we are. And if we think each time we gather at our own tables is like a “little communion,” that’s a good time to tell a story of how we get to where we are or to listen to someone else’s story of how they came to where they are.
For example, just this past week, our son worked on a family tree project for school. With a network of other amateur family historians, he’s traced our family back to about the 10th century (around the time Dunstan mis-shoed the devil!), and it’s given both me and my wife a chance to share some of the stories we know and remember about great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents. Certainly we’ve also found a thing or two that we prefer not to have known, that we wish had been left to the mists of time past, but we’ve all got that little bit of reckoning in our histories to deal with.
Think about those stories you’ve heard for so long. Re-visit them with others to hear their perspectives and remembrances. Like the story of Dunstan helped me to discover a forgotten Christian history of what I assumed was simply a lucky talisman, we might all begin to remember and appreciate the connectedness we all share, even to the parts and people of our family where we need the most reconciliation. And that just might empower us to bind up other wounds, too.
And now I’m gonna go and find a horseshoe for my office!