By Mary Bridges, chaplain, Salina Presbyterian Manor
Here it is November already. Cooks are filling their freezers with goodies and planning their menu. People are booking flights and making reservations so they can spend the holiday with family and friends. And in the back of everyone’s mind is the thought that Christmas will be here in the blink of an eye.
There were 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower that landed in Massachusetts in 1620. Their first winter in America was brutal and half of those on board died. In the spring the survivors went ashore where they were greeted by an Abenaki Indian who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years and tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.
The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in October 1621. This feast lasted three days, and—as accounted by attendee Edward Winslow—it was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims.
Thanksgiving has been celebrated nationally on and off since 1789, after Congress requested a proclamation by George Washington. It has been celebrated as a federal holiday every year since 1864, when, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.
A life changing event for me was a church sponsored exchange program in 1992. I flew to the Middle East and lived with a Palestinian family for a month. Living in Ramallah, which was technically a war zone, opened my eyes to things I had never seen or experienced before. I met many people from different walks of life, different faiths and different countries. One day after experiencing a Good Friday service at a Greek Orthodox Church I expressed surprise at how the different faiths worked together. The pastor’s wife said, “We work together because we have a common…” and of course being an American I knew everything and I was sure I knew what she was going to say, so I finished the sentence for her, “enemy.” She said NO, “We have a common FUTURE so we must work together.” Hope Lutheran Church operated a school where Christian and Muslim children went to school side-by-side.
The first Thanksgiving was held following a brutal year for the Pilgrims. It was celebrated by people grateful to be alive and thankful for the Indians who taught them survival skills. It became a federal holiday, since Abraham Lincoln, signed the proclamation during the Civil War which was tearing our country apart.
These past few months have taken a toll on our country. Hurricanes, kneeling, standing, flags, and a horrific mass shooting have rocked our world and changed the lives of many. Name calling and bullying are experienced everywhere from social media, to the beauty shop, and to the coffee shop. No matter if the conversations are with strangers or with family and friends, we are all left with the question: How do we move forward from here?
I believe God created all of us equal. I believe that God made each one of us a unique individual unlike any other. That means we are born with differences and our life experiences shape who we are and who we become. We need honest conversations about the differences in this country. When talking about differences it’s so easy to start the name calling that leads to anger because we know our way is the right way. This is when we need to stop take a breath and say, “I do not agree with you but I respect your right to have a different opinion.” The God in me recognizes the God in you.
This Thanksgiving and in the coming year let us use the words given to us by St. Francis of Assisi as our prayer to guide all of us into our new “future” together.
Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life
I challenge each of you to begin a daily gratitude journal beginning on November 1.
I’m going to use mine to remind me of the many blessings in my life.
I will list three people and three things and/or places that I’m thankful for.
Here is my first post:
I am thankful for the residents, families, and staff of Salina Presbyterian Manor.
I’m especially grateful to have had the opportunity to know Helen Lopshire and her daughter Martha Oakes. I’m grateful for the beautiful handmade altar cloths that Martha made for our Chapel. They will bring beauty to our worship space during all the seasons of the year.