With whom do we share our plenty?
By Rev. Dr. Dawn Jeffers Ramstad, Pastor, Hudson United Methodist Church
Thinking about Thanksgiving and the current exhibit on holy space at the Phipps, I found myself wondering about the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag experience of holy space. One item that intrigued me was a letter by Edward Winslow, a Pilgrim, dated Dec. 12, 1621:
"Our corn (wheat) did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn . . . . Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. . . . At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation . . . . And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty." (mayflowerhistory.com/thanksgiving)
With whom in our space do we share our plenty?
The Pilgrims shared theirs with the Wampanoag who had helped them survive their arrival in the New World. This was so much more than a potluck buffet on paper plates. These folks celebrated their harvest, hunt, and blessings with food and play for well over a week.
Perhaps if we had survived exile from home, sailing by wind across the North Atlantic, arriving in late November, wintering aboard ship before building in spring, and losing half our company to disease, perhaps a decent harvest, a good hunt, and helpful new neighbors would give us thankfulness to celebrate for a whole week.
The Pilgrims were a community bound by covenant. When they first made landfall in November 1620, the drafted the Mayflower Compact, a covenant that guided their common life. ". . . (we the undersigned) do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together in a Civil Body Politic, . . . for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. . . . ." (You can read the full text at www.plimoth.org.)
What if we too solemnly and mutually bound ourselves together into a civil body politic in the presence of God and each other? Is what divides us so great we can't find our way to be civil?
A big thing to ponder is the Pilgrims shared their feast with their neighbors even though those neighbors were of a different race and religion. But perhaps as readers of the Star Observer it is not the Pilgrims (our ancestors in heritage) we should pay attention to as models. Perhaps it is the Wampanoag who in the two winters before the Pilgrims arrived had faced a plague and lost many community members (www.indians.org/articles/wampanoag-indians). Tensions between Native Americans and European immigrants been documented as hostile for a full century before the Pilgrims landed in the Wampanoag territory. But the Wampanoag made a different choice. They chose to help the Pilgrims survive.
For this they all gave thanks. While the Pilgrims drew their idea for a Thanksgiving in their promised land from Judeo-Christian scriptures, Wampanoag spiritual tradition also had a heritage of feasting to give thanks. It seems they shared more than space, they also shared a holy practice of sacred time as well.
It is a history Americans forgot until we were on the eve of the Civil War. Then we reclaimed the Pilgrims' accounts as grounds for celebration, remembering that the "Indians" were invited. With the Civil Rights movement, work in Native American history brought the Wampanoag history and contribution to the feast, an account current grade school children now learn.
But the lesson our children learn is one we adults must ponder. With whom are we sharing our space, and with whom are we willing to set aside our differences, share a meal, and give thanks together. What is the history we are now called to write?