Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Plimoth

Last summer when sister RE and I were visiting our brother BB and nephew K and his wife C in New England, we spent a very hot afternoon at Plimoth Plantation (and no, that's not spelled incorrectly), wandering through the re-production of the Native village and the first settlers' homes.  We watched practically naked young men weaving thin pieces of bark through long sticks to create a long house--a project that will take the three of them a couple of years to complete, since only two work at a time, while the other narrates (in proper American English) for the crowd.  We sat in a very small hut, where furs covered the dirt floor, and raised mats, and listened to a woman speak of how the tribe lived and finally died out in exactly this spot, trying to live the old way (off the grid, one might call it now) as recently as the 20th century.  They married and procreated and bore children and raised extended families and suffered illnesses, and watched people die in these small huts for hundreds of years, and lived off the land and followed the seasons to and from the sea--inland in winter and outward in summer.  And all the while, called it good.

And then the people came from over the sea in large ships and many clothes with many novice ways of living, ways that didn't lend to this land. The Pilgrims, as we call them, who came from Holland, where they'd fled first from English persecution, were uncertain about almost everything.  And the natives were uncertain about the English as well.

But somehow, they learned to live together, or at least, side-by-side, in two different ways. The English with their tall, thatched-roof houses, and heavy chests and many clothes, their rules and regulations and desire to own the land rather than live with it.  And the natives with their more free-moving rhythm with the seasons. 

That afternoon last summer, when we walked through the Plantation at Plimoth, I was struck by the grid on the hill where the pilgrims lived, like a High street from some English village plopped down across the ocean back in the 1600s, lots assigned, portions divided, in contrast to the rambling maze of the native village down in the flats where they just set up camp and could just as easily move it, when necessary.

But one thing they did, these two separate people--when the work was done, they gathered to be thankful.  Now I don't know if what we call Thanksgiving actually took place in the autumn after the first full year of being in the new world, the way we were taught in our history books.  I know that many of those early stories are faulty. But I do know there's truth to a harvest feast. And I know that these pilgrim ancestors of ours were thankful people. And I know that the people who met them on the shores of this land had lent them hands and feet and grain to get them through the tough first year. And visa versa, at times.  And I know they gave thanks.

But long before it was an American, or new world, tradition to set aside a day for a harvest feast, it was a-people-of-God tradition to set aside a day to give God thanks for the harvest.  For a thousand years before Christ, the people of God were stopping their labors to praise God for the fruitfulness of the harvest.  This feast is called  The festival of Tabernacles, and is mentioned first in Exodus 23:16, "... Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in your crops from the field."

So this idea of Thanksgiving is extremely old.
And has very little to do with overeating.  
And a whole lot to do with offering to God.
I dare say we forget that.
As with so many things, it's morphed into being about how we can stuff ourselves with more, rather than honor God with more.  But I keep thinking of how lightly the natives of this land held onto things: space, time, land.  They simply lived with all of it.  Honored it. Yes, without the God we know and love. But I wonder, is there something to be learned from them?  How can I live more lightly with the stuff of life? How can I honor the time I've been given, the space in which I find myself, the land on which I live, and give it back to God to whom it actually belongs?  How can I--this year--be thankful for ALL that He has given me, and not merely hurry on to the next thing (to the Black Friday sales, for example!), and try to get more?

There's something to consider here.

I am thankful for this life.  I do not say this as a general, overarching thing, like a beauty contest parroting that her one dream is world peace (or peas, as our family likes to sarcastically say), but as a humble prayer. I am thankful for the inexpressible gift that He has given by giving me life.

And then giving me life again.

"Let us enter His gates with thanksgiving in our hearts,
and enter His courts with praise." Psalm 100:2

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