“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Living in the beautiful hill country of central Massachusetts, in the very heart of New England, it feels like history is very close to the surface: ever present and alive.
History is very present with me now, as we approach an anniversary in our national and religious history: 2020 will mark the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower at Provincetown, and then Plymouth, here in Massachusetts.
The mythos attached to that fateful day serves as the basis for the Thanksgiving holiday many of us will celebrate this week — although others will rightfully mark the holiday with mourning, and with tributes to the peoples who were nearly wiped out by imperialism.
All of this converges into history that is still present and impossible to escape. Most of us are not Pilgrims, Puritans, Colonists or even Christian, yet the legacy of those traditions are still with us. They compose the roots of the institutions we have built up and sustain.
Still, too many would prefer to ignore certain aspects of Thanksgiving. Why mar the image we have of ourselves as blameless, as good people, by bringing up this complex and tragic chapter — one of far too many — in our history?
This intersection of history and culture leaves me with ambivalence and discomfort, but it feels generative. I’m strangely excited about this particular moment of discomfort, because something new could come out of it; something like healing. This is our opportunity to reimagine what Thanksgiving could be — and by extension, who we could be.
What would it mean to mourn with those who are mourning? What would it mean to jettison the mythos of Thanksgiving, and even replace the traditional meal with a vigil in Plymouth led by the United American Indians of New England? (If you can’t join me in Plymouth, perhaps you’ll join me in spirit by asking these questions.)
Our knowledge of the wrongs of the past, and the knowledge of the unearned benefits that inevitably come from those wrongs, might help us to build true, lasting, and more authentic relationships both today and in the future... and that will be a cause for thanksgiving.
Spirit of Life, God of roots and branches, we don’t know how we’ve come to this place, but here we are. Help us to be wise as well as compassionate, persevering, and courageous in this moment, so that we might be worthy of the challenges that lay before us, and grateful for the communities we are called to restore. Amen.