Mayflower Compact

Mayflower Compact

2018.11.21-22

Growing Community

 

If you go to the website plimouth.org, you will read what a community of Americans describes as the first Thanksgiving.  The community decided that was how they wished history to be.  However, it is not fact but rather a perspective that protected the community from seeming to be cruel or heartless.  Sometimes a community feels it must do such to protect itself.  I don’t know exactly when those in charge of Plimouth plantation decided to fabricate the partially true bit of history but it might fall under the heading of “fake news”.

 

Approximately 398 years ago, plus one day, the men aboard a ship of immigrants fleeing persecution were nearing the end of their sixty-six day journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  Hoping to soon set foot on dry land, they devised a legal and binding contract of behavior and governance for all to follow.  Before each man set foot off the ship he was expected to sign the document that, as of the late 1700’s, has become known as the Mayflower Compact. 

 

The ship these immigrants sailed upon was called the Mayflower and it was under the steerage of Christopher Jones.  Known as the master (today we would consider him the Captain), Jones’ quarters were at the back of the ship in the stern.  The sailors lived in quarters at the front of the ship and used a hole cut into the tip of the bow or head for their personal hygiene needs.  The quarters consisted on one room known as the forecastle, a wet room constantly hit by crashing waves and frequently quite cold.  In the area between the Captain’s berth and the forecastle were the quarters for the officers.

 

The passengers on the Mayflower were considered cargo.  One hundred and two men, women, and children lived in the dark cargo decks below the crew.  Today there are caravans of immigrants escaping persecution from Central and South America approaching the United States border but in 1620, the fleeing immigrants were below the decks, seldom seeing the sun and feeling the full brunt of the ocean’s currents, tides, and waves.

 

These immigrants in 1620 were known as the Pilgrims.  Before leaving England, they had obtained permission from the King of England to settle on land farther to the south near the mouth of the Hudson River (in present-day New York).  The wind drew them off course and instead landing farther south where they had expected to make shore, they landed in New England.  This meant they needed a new permission (called a patent) to settle there as all land in this New World had been claimed as property of the King of England. On November 11, 1620, feeling the need to maintain order and establish a civil society while they waited for this new patent, the adult male passengers signed the Mayflower Compact.

 

At this juncture, two important points need to be made.  First, there were over five thousand groups of people already living in this New World as the North American continent was known in 1620.  Claiming it for the sovereignty of England did not erase this fact.  These people had spent decades and centuries to reach this land mass, coming originally as immigrants from the Caucus Mountains.  Today in the USA they are called Native Americans or American Indians.  The Canadian term is much more apt – First Families.  Archaeological evidence places their arrival some thirty thousand years before Europeans reached North America and some twenty thousand years in South America.  It is estimated they arrived some fifteen thousand years before the Vikings reached the shores of northern North America.

 

The second important point is that communities make such compacts as a way of maintaining order.  This is true of religious communities, volunteer groups, municipalities, social organizations, businesses, etc.  It is to be hoped that such documents include all parties involved and are written to the greatest maximum benefit of all.  In keeping with the times, only men signed the Mayflower Compact as women were not considered to be of mental acuity to understand such.  Gender discrimination is not a modern-day issue.  Much like the laws of today, though, a piece of paper cannot guarantee success, or that all will follow what has been agreed upon, or that order will lead to a better tomorrow.  The community itself must work together for the betterment of all and be willing to chance.  If not, well…that is where things can often get complicated.  They certainly did in 1620.

 

Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, there were 50 men, 19 women and 33 young adults and children.  Just 41 were true Pilgrims, religious separatists seeking freedom from the Church of England.  The others were considered common folk and included merchants, craftsmen, indentured servants and orphaned children—the Pilgrims called them “strangers.”  Seeking the right to worship as they wished, the Pilgrims had signed a contract with the Virginia Company to settle on land near the Hudson River, which was then part of northern Virginia.  The Virginia Company was a trading company chartered by King James I with the goal of colonizing parts of the eastern coast of the New World.  London stockholders financed the Pilgrim’s voyage with the understanding they’d be repaid in profits from the new settlement.

 

The strangers argued the Virginia Company contract was void. They felt since the Mayflower had landed outside of Virginia Company territory, they were no longer bound to the company’s charter.  The defiant strangers refused to recognize any rules since there was no official government over them.  Pilgrim leader William Bradford later wrote, “… several strangers made discontented and mutinous speeches.”  The Pilgrims knew if something wasn’t done quickly it could be every man, woman and family for themselves.  It’s unclear who wrote the Mayflower Compact, but the well-educated Separatist and pastor William Brewster is usually given credit.  One now-famous colonist who signed the Mayflower Compact was Myles Standish. He was an English military officer hired by the Pilgrims to accompany them to the New World to serve as military leader for the colony. Standish played an important role in enforcing the new laws and protecting colonists against the natives of the area who were considered unfriendly.

 

In establishing a community, it should be noted that other communities must be considered.  The Europeans came to this new land mass wanting to own all and did not give thought to those who were already living on the land and considered it theirs.  Because they dressed differently, had different customs and practices, they were considered savage.  When they tried to protect their homes, gardens, food sources, and families, they were called unfriendly. 

 

William Bradford kept diaries and what we known of the original Mayflower Compact has been learned through his diaries.  The original handwritten document has been lost but copies remain from over one hundred years later that are considered good references for it.  The Mayflower Compact created laws for Mayflower Pilgrims and non-Pilgrims alike for the good of their new colony. It was a short document which established that: the colonists would remain loyal subjects to King James, despite their need for self-governance; the colonists would live in accordance with the Christian faith; the colonists would create one society and work together to further it; the colonists would create and enact “laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices…” for the good of the colony, and abide by those laws.  The newly-formed Plymouth (or Plimouth) colony was their new community and John Carver was elected governor on November 21, 1620, three hundred and ninety-eight days ago. 

 

That first year was brutal.  Disease, improper clothing for the elements, lack of food and shelter resulted in the deaths of over half of those making the voyage aboard the Mayflower.  Of the eighteen adult women in the new community, fifteen perished that first year.  The Mayflower Compact is considered important as it established self-governance in this new land, the first of any such.  It remained active until Plymouth Colony became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.  John Carver perished that first year and William Bradford took over as governor. 

 

Also at the end of that first year, the new colonists discovered their neighbors were not so savage after all.  The end of the growing season meant the Indians would have their ritual of a harvest feast.  They invited the colonists to join them and the two communities, at least for several days, came together in peace and community.  Sadly, the Massachusetts Indians who were the hosts succumbed to the germs the English brought with them, typical everyday germs we all carry on our bodies.  There was no conspiracy to eliminate the Massachusetts tribe but it did.  The remaining thirty or so members of the tribe led by Chief Massasoit then joined a neighboring tribe, the Wampanoag Indians.  It was an Indian custom to have young men participate in an exchange program with neighboring tribes.  Such a custom shared knowledge but also led to an understanding and often, prevention of warfare.  It enabled the two somewhat different communities to ensure a future through discourse and education rather than annihilation.

 

Many believe the Mayflower Compact set the stage for the US Constitution.  However, the legislative branch of the US government bears more similarities to the governance of the Massachusetts and Wampanoag tribes than the Mayflower Compact.  This is, however, the way of history.  We form communities and we learn.  Those communities thrive when we gain and take the best of the past, giving thanks for lessons learned, and then move forward.  Of the time the Pilgrims had spent in the Dutch republic city of Leiden, historian Nathaniel Philbrick once wrote:  “Just as a spiritual covenant had marked the beginning of their congregation in Leiden, a civil covenant would provide the basis for a secular government in America.”

 

Many times we think of a spiritual covenant as relating to faith, a religious doctrine but I would offer that truly it is a nonphysical grouping of belief and we all have such.  This week might not be a time where you have an official Thanksgiving Holiday but I do think it a good time to give thanks.  We all should have an attitude of gratitude and move forward, committed to making our world a better community for all.  This provides not only a civil covenant for the future but a basis of a better tomorrow for us all. 

 

 

 

 

 

Figgy Pudding

Figgy Pudding

2018.11.15

Growing Community

 

In one week those living in the USA will celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  It will also be the official start of the holiday (i.e., Christmas) season.  In reality, though, the holiday shopping season began in mid-July as stores put out decorations and crafts ideas for gifts to be made.  Many people have been griping about seeing peppermint canes and holly wreaths while shopping for swimsuits or pumpkins but I am one of those who delights in seeing the Christmas cheer on display, even when the temperatures are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

As we become fully entrenched in the holiday season, carols will be played and one of the more popular ones has a verse that implores…”So bring us some figgy pudding, so bring us some figgy pudding, so bring us some figgy pudding and put it right here.”  Savory puddings are less well known than their sweet counterparts but savory puddings like figgy pudding are actually not only older but why the community of mankind survived the ages.  The modern usage of the word pudding id used to denote primarily desserts however the word pudding is believed to come from the French “boudin”, originally from the Latin “botellus”, meaning “small sausage”, referring to encased meats.  The meats were encased in animal intestines to preserve them; such preservation meant the meats could be kept longer and thus provided sustenance during hard times or when one could not go hunting. 

 

The first record of plum or figgy pudding dates back to the fifteenth century when records indicate a plum pottage or mash was served at the beginning of the meal.  Plum was a generic term used to indicate any dried fruit and the fruits were combined with meat and root vegetables.  Commonly dried fruit of the period were raisins, currants, and prunes.  By the end of the sixteenth century, dried fruit was more plentiful and the plum or figgy pudding became more sweet than savory.  Pudding cloths became popular as the concoction would be wrapped in the cloth and no longer needed to depend on animal fat to hold together.  It is most likely that such is the early beginnings of dishes like the Scottish haggis and Pennsylvania Dutch hog maw – both savory casseroles prepared in either intestines or the lining from a pig’ stomach.

 

In 1647 the figgy pudding was so closely associated with the Christmas holidays that Prime Minister Oliver Cromwell had it banned.  The Puritanical Cromwell felt such harkened back to the Druids, paganism, and idolatry.  In 1660 when the English monarchy was restored, so were the traditions of Yule logs, nativity scenes,, Christmas carols, and the figgy pudding.  The Victorian era saw the figgy pudding achieve a position of prominence, thanks in no small part to Charles Dickens.  The first Christmas savings clubs were created to help poor housewives save for the figgy or Christmas pudding ingredients.  In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the last Sunday before the Advent season contained a prayer that began “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people” and became known as “Stir-Up Sunday”.  Family members would take turn stirring the Christmas pudding which was then wrapped and boiled and set aside to mature until Christmas Day.  By the nineteenth century the traditional figgy pudding had become more of what we today call fruitcake, a mixture of brown sugar, raisins, currants, candied fruit, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, suet, and alcohol.

 

The Victorian citizens, the Christmas pudding was an analogy for their world view.  The British Empire consisted of savory bits from distant colonies all bound together by a settled atmosphere of All that was considered to be English.  One advantage of the Christmas pudding was the time it took to season and cure as well as the lengthy time it lasted.  This meant that soldiers deployed in far-off lands could enjoy this taste of home even if it took almost a year to receive it. 

 

I don’t mind the appearance of Christmas in July simply because I think it is always time to spread Christmas cheer.  Sadly, too often today our Christmas puddings are made in molds rather than the more organic shapes of the past.  While I admire the beauty of such molds, I do wonder if they serve to divide us instead of bringing us together.  We grow a community with the sharing of Christmas cheer and yet, if we expect that community to be perfect or everyone to fit in a mold, then we are self-defeating.

 

In growing a community we need to stir-up our diversities and celebrate our common denominators in solidifying our future.  The 1848 satirical cartoon once entitled “John Bull Showing the Foreign Powers How to Make a Constitutional Plum Pudding” seems sadly appropriate for our

modern times.  The cartoon illustration revealed a person preparing to carve a bulging, holly-adorned pudding labeled “Liberty of the Press”, “Trial by Jury”, “Common Sense”, and “Order”. 

 

Stir up, good people, the wills of your faith, so that they will bring forth the fruit of good works and therefore richly reward us all.   When we grow community we help ourselves to hear the call of goodness and practice such service as will benefit us all.  Whatever the weather or season, we need some figgy pudding, that combination of different things brought together for preservation and continuance of us all.

 

 

Enemies Gather

Enemies Gather

Pentecost 194

 

Today in the USA is a holiday, a holiday known as Thanksgiving Day.  Stories are told, depending upon one’s perspective about the American Indians living in the area hosting a harvest festival for the Pilgrims, newly arrived from England, or that the Pilgrims invited the Indian savages to a meal of giving thanks to the Creator.  It is a day set aside to give thanks, regardless of how you celebrate and many will gather with families to do just that.  It will not be a typical, ordinary day but rather one with platters of food and desserts, games, and frivolity.  It has been welcomed in this tense political climate and many consider it a pleasant change from the daily mood of the country.

 

In truth, the first Thanksgiving, taking place in 1621, was held amid much the same derision and division as people feel today.  The Pilgrims wanted to celebrate their first anniversary in the New World, a pilgrimage for religious freedom that had taken them first to Amsterdam and then Leiden in the Netherlands.  These Separatists had broken from the Church of England in 1607 but after a decade decided they needed to join the already established colony of Virginia.  Thirty-five members of the English Separatist Church joined other would-be settlers to embark on a journey across the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Mayflower. 

 

Those undertaking the trans-Atlantic journey included a professional soldier named Myles Standish and the leader of the Separatists, William Bradford.  While still on board the ship forty-one men signed a document ensuring they would work together in a “civil body politic”, a document known as the Mayflower Compact.  The document would become the foundation for the first independent government of sorts in this new land.

 

The Mayflower failed to reach its intended destination of Virginia due to rough seas so those aboard hoped to settle in what was called New Amsterdam, now known as New York.  It was believed the two settlements were close together; we know today they are not.  Arriving in Plymouth Harbor in December, the newly arrived lived mostly on board the ship while they carried supplies to shore to build their living quarters.  Of the one hundred that had made the journey, over half died that first winter.

 

Living in the area were various tribes of the Wampanoag people.  The Indians had lived there for over ten thousand years, having originally been descendants of people from the Caucasus Mountain region in Eurasia. [The Arabs called these people Caucasian because of that although today the term is not used for American Indians but for people who came from west of these mountains, those of European descent.  Again, perspective has rewritten history.]    Those encountered by the Pilgrims as they now called themselves were of a group under Chief Massasoit, known as the Massachusetts tribe.  Tisquantum was an Indian living with this tribe, having escaped an attempt to make him a slave several years earlier.  Known by his English name Squanto, he had been captured by John Smith in Virginia and taken to England, as much a trophy as a servant/slave.  He had escaped and ended up with the Pawtuxet, another tribe living in the area.  Tisquantum/Squanto had learned English and served as a go-between for the two groups.  The Indians shared agricultural tips and hunting locations and the Pilgrims shared newer techniques for living.  In the fall of 1621 a joint feast was held amid the still simmering suspicions each group had of the other.

 

By 1622 power had corrupted Tisquantum/Squanto and his attempt to lead the Pilgrims in a revolt against Chief Massasoit failed.  He died later that year while leading an expedition around Cape Cod.  One of Massasoit’s sons, known as Metacomet or Phillip, assumed leadership of his tribe and in 1675, a war broke out between the two factions – Indians and settlers.  The conflict left over five thousand inhabitants of New England dead, seventy-five percent being American Indian.  IN terms of human loss of life, this was twice as deadly as the American War Between the States and seven times more deadly than the American Revolution or Wear of Independence.

 

That first ship the Mayflower had arrived in 1620 and was followed by the Fortune in 1621, the Anne and the Little James in 1623.  By 1630 some one thousand Pilgrim settlers were living the in Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Those first arrivals were known as “Old Comers” and many ended up leaving to go elsewhere due to the politics of the settlers. The term Pilgrim was not used until Daniel Webster adopted it in 1820 at the colony’s bicentennial.

 

What has not changed in the successive years of celebrating Thanksgiving is the fact that food is involved and groups of people gather, groups with differing opinions and usually lifestyles.  The momentum behind the celebration has also not changed – the effort being designed to give thanks.  Regardless of the year, the climate or the culture, gratitude is definitely worth our efforts.

 

Grateful people are healthier people and more successful.  They have lower stress levels and seldom suffer from depression.  Gratitude is not only seeing the silver lining of a dark cloud, it is living thanksgiving every day.  We are seldom if ever in a place where everyone is exactly alike or thinks exactly the same about anything.  Today as many gather together around the Thanksgiving table, some will like one style of mashed potatoes while others wanted candied sweet potatoes.  Turkey is the traditional meat entrée but many will have sausage dressing with it or oyster stuffing with their fowl.

 

The fact is that wherever we are, we are among those who are different, who at some point in history have probably been viewed by our ancestors as enemies.  Thanksgiving is a time to realize our uniqueness and celebrate our differences while recognizing that we all have something to offer to each other.  That first Thanksgiving was not a love-in.  It was a coming together with respect to give thanks to the Creator and creation.  It was time to celebrate the ordinary in an extraordinary way.  Hopefully, one day we can learn their example and live the lessons they passed down to us.

 

 

A Stolen Sun

A Stolen Sun

Pentecost #187

 

They were called the poles that held up the sky.  To many in modern times they represent religious beliefs or perhaps identification.  Totem poles were much more than the first name badges, however.  They were a type of family tree.  They represented what a family believed in and who, to a stranger, might offer hospitality.  It was easy to identify which families shared similar totems or beliefs and what those beliefs were.  Common to the indigenous people of the northwestern part of North America, totem poles often traced the lineage these “First Families” felt they had with animal ancestors.

 

A common representation found on totem poles is that of the raven.  There are many myths that feature the raven and in British Columbia, the mythology begins with the world covered in darkness.\ and the Kungalas tribe.  The chief of this tribe and his wife had a son they loved very much but unfortunately their son died.  Every morning the chief and his wife, accompanied by the entire tribe would grieve by the son’s corpse.  One morning a young man who seemed to glow was found sitting where the corpse had been.  The chief’s wife was convinced her son had come back to life and when asked by the chief if he was their son, the young boy answered affirmatively.

 

The tribe was overjoyed at the return of the chief’s son but the boy would not eat.  Finally a slave called Mouth-at-Each-End offered the boy a piece of whale meat.  The boy ate it and then began eating everything else in sight.  The son, in an effort to save his tribe from starvation, decided to send his reborn son away.  He gave the boy a raven blanket as well as berries and fish eggs to scatter on the land so that he himself would never be hungry.

 

The legend tells that the young man put on his raven blanket, which was nothing more than a complete skin from a human-sized raven, and flew up to what the Kungalas called the sky world, a world much different from theirs, a world of light.  He waited by a fresh water stream until the daughter of Chief-of-the-Skies happened along.  The boy changed himself into a leaf and when the girl partook of the water, she swallowed the leaf.  Soon thereafter a young baby was born to the girl.  The baby was the darkling of the Sky People but he would never stop crying.  They finally deduced he wanted to play with the ball in which daylight was kept.

 

The lad played with his ball of light for several years but one day put it on his shoulder and ran to the hole in the sky where the ball had once been.  Putting on the raven suit, he flew the ball of light back to earth.  He found the Kungalas by the Nass River eating what the natives called olachen or candle-fish.  He asked them to throw him a fish but they refused.  He then told them he wanted to make a trade – the ball of light for the fish.  The clan refused and began shouting insults at him.  The boy in anger cut the ball open, throwing light upon all the ends of the earth.

 

The myth addresses a common concept of ravens being trickster spirits and, as any farmer can tell you, there might be some truth to that.  What I find most interesting is that the type of fish the people were eating at the end when the boy returns to earth is so specifically identified.  The candle fish has many names such as olachen, eulachon, hooligan, oolichan, or ooligan.  Found along the Pacific coast of the northwest coasts of both the United States of America and Canada.  The name eulachon is a Chinook tribal name but some of the other names come from English and Irish names.

 

The candle fish during spawning season packs on an extra fifteen percent of body weight and if caught, was sometimes dried and then used as a candle.  It is a very greasy fish and they were often processed for their oil.  The oil was then traded and the trade routes were often called grease trails.  The fish eats smaller fish along the ocean floor and is an integral part of the aquatic food chain of the region as well as being a staple of the tribes in the area.

 

The boy wanted to trade one small beam of light for the sun he had stolen from the Sky People.  Would he have made the trade?  We will never know.  He was considered a trickster so perhaps not.  By refusing the simply give up a fish which gave them both artificial light and sustenance, the Kungalas gained sunlight.  Many might say they made the better trade.

 

We should not forget the name-calling aspect of this story, though.  None of the tribe’s people seem to have tried explaining their refusal.  Instead they laughed at such a suggestion.  All too often in today’s world we are very quick to judge and yes, some engage in name-calling.  When we offer an option perhaps not thought of by the masses, we are considered to be instantly wrong.  When someone doesn’t go along with the proposed scheme, they are called stupid or a spoil=sport.

 

Not every scheme is a winner and there are certainly enough unscrupulous people out there that it makes good sense to be leery.  Good communication is also vital whether we are agreeing or refusing.  Can grief return a loved one to life?  Science would tell us no but maybe we need to look at how we are defining “life”.  The chief’s son, if he had not died, would have become the leader and it was the duty of every leader to lead the tribe into a better future than before and to provide for the living.  Certainly having the sun in their lives helped…until it got too hot as in yesterday’s story.

 

Most of us have lost a beloved family member.  We have a variety of ways to keep that person’s memory alive.  Some make scrapbooks while others dedicate memorials or establish scholarship funds.  The simplest thing is to live a life that would have made that loved one proud.  When we lose a loved one it seems as if the sun of our own personal lives has gone dark.  Finding our own way back into the light can be difficult.

 

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day for Americans and, while many will celebrate with friends and family, some will be alone, left to grieve as the tribe did in loss of a loved one.  I fervently hope that if you are one of those who will be sitting in the dark, that you find a glimmer of light.  Volunteer at a homeless shelter or assist at a soup kitchen.  Being alone is not a crime nor is it shameful.  Being alive, though, should be celebrated and we all have things for which to give thanks.  And even if you are staying home tomorrow, give thanks that you have a home.  You will get to have your celebratory holiday meal in your comfortable clothes or maybe even in your pajamas!

 

The raven has had something of a misnomer for hundreds of years.  A member of the Corvus genus, ravens, along with crows which are a close cousin, are actually some of the most intelligent birds on earth and ravens live an amazing thirty years.  In the colonial period of the U.S.A. ravens and crows were an integral part of both agriculture and urbanization.

 

The light is not just about being bright in the company of others but walking in goodness and peace.  If you are reading this, you are a blessing to me.  We may not all seem to give light to others like the candle fish could, but you sustain me and are a bright light to me.  Daily I give thanks for you.  It is one of my prayers that you are blessed and walk in peace.

The Great Mystery

The Great Mystery

Pentecost #179

 

In one week the United States of America will celebrate Thanksgiving.  It is a day set aside to commemorate a harvest dinner held approximately one year after the first wave of English settlers had arrived on the northeastern coastline of the New World.

 

An American Indian friend recently described the event from her perspective.  “Almost four hundred years ago some of my relatives hosted a harvest dinner and invited some religious refugees who were nearly starving.  Two years later all but less than thirty of the tribe had died from diseases the Europeans had introduced to the tribe.  My relatives died living their faith and so they died a noble death, a death of honor.  Today their tribal name is all but forgotten, remembered only in the name of the state where this dinner we now call Thanksgiving took place, a dinner hosted by the Massachusetts Indians.

 

When Christopher Columbus discovered islands near the coast of the state we call Florida, there were possibly almost ten million people living in what today we call the U.S.A.  There were an estimated five hundred separate tribal groups, each unique and diverse.  About half of the fifty states in the U.S.A. have names taken from American Indian names.    While over four hundred of those tribes are now considered extinct, their names live on in the present.  The biggest myth about American Indians, though, is not from their culture but from Hollywood and a few literary works.  The stereotype of a grunting savage makes for good copy and screen time but simply is not true.

 

Many tribes did share similar beliefs and customs.  Historians have organized these into Indian nations.  Two tribes sharing like belief systems and societal characteristics were the Sioux and the Lakota.  Their central spiritual deity was called Wakan Tanka, a name which translates as “the Great Mystery” or “The Great Spirit”.  Wakan Tanka was said to be the universal spirit which was found in everything.

 

The Sioux and Lakota believed that, in the beginning, the very beginning, before anything had presence, Wakan Tanka existed in a dark, unknown void called Han.  The first thing to exist was Inyan, an entity that appeared as a rock.  Inyan released his energy which became the blue blood of the seas and oceans.  Another thing that came from Inyan was the earth goddess Maka.

 

Maka had characteristics of discord and negativity and she used them to complain that she had been made from Inyan.  Maka wanted to have been created as her own being.  She also protested living in Han.  In the dark void, Maka could not see herself or even a reflection of herself.

 

A third deity was the sky god Skan.  Skan was more spiritual than physical and served as a judge of all matters.  He heard Maka’s complaints and took action, splitting Han into two parts.  Maka was also divided between the two sections of Han.  In the upper world, Maka was known as Anp, living in the light.  Below the earth, Maka would live in the darkness of Han.

 

Maka was still not satisfied and found something else about which to complain, even though she had decorated herself with water, forming lakes and rivers which were the jewelry of her earthly terrain.  Skan created a fourth deity known as Wi.  Wi also caused shadows.  This was most important because the Sioux and Lakota felt shadows represented the spirit of all things, spirits that although individual were also connected.

 

Anp and Han shared the sky, one being day and the other night.  I like that analogy.  After all, we are all separate and yet joined, unique and yet the same.  The American Indians recognized their commonalities with the English immigrants as well as their differences.  Mostly, though, they viewed the world through the lens of their faith and offered peace.  Hopefully we can all follow their example and make peace a life habit and not an ancient myth.  The great mystery of living in peace with one another is simply to be kind to one another.

Pentecost 178

Pentecost 178
My Proverbs 28

The Gathering

Somewhere around 950 ACE, the word “haerfest” came into usage. Approximately four hundred years later man had an implement that became known as the “harwe” in the Middle English language. Following the paths that languages took, based upon traveling bands and invading armies, the “w” sound became a “v”, the “ae” diphthong became just an “a”, and the word “harvest” entered the English dictionary.

The concept of a harvest was nothing new. Regardless of whatever story you believe about mankind’s beginnings, food was an integral part of survival. As man became communal, food needs became organized in how they were secured. One can wander around and eat berries but a clan soon depletes a thicket of available plant sustenance. Thus, as food sources became crops, the yield of those crops became an annual event. It is an unconscious habit to say a word of gratitude when someone hands you a small cake, piece of sweet, or drink; the mind recognizes the need for the body to have fuel. Many hands made short work of the harvesting of food sources and giving thanks for such was as natural as breathing.

Thus the countless harvest festivals held worldwide not surprisingly became festivals of gratitude. Yesterday those in the United States of America celebrated Thanksgiving Day. While many remember President Abraham Lincoln for being killed by an assassin or for being the president during America’s only organized national civil war, it was this president during this was that made the USA’s Thanksgiving Day a national holiday.

Today many countries are in the midst of their own civil war. Fanatical religious factions are holding parts of Iran under siege. Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are under similar threats from terroristic regimes attempting to overthrow the governments. Russia has acted in such a way as to incite and exacerbate the situation and governments in its former satellite nations. On a lesser note, several countries have infighting between native groups and the current governments. How many of those have stopped, in the midst of the turmoil and fighting, to proclaim a day of thanks? How many people caught in the battle between Islamic tribes and Jewish tribes find attitudes of gratitude, are able to see the good things for the fighting?

In his proclamation, Lincoln wrote: “t has seemed to me fit and proper that they [Lincoln had previously made note of the gains during the past year compared to the misery and fighting] should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”

Regardless of whether you celebrate this time of harvest thanks, time of communal appreciation and gratitude in November, October, September, or whenever, many things are constant and one of those things are the expectations of family gatherings. All too often, this holiday, like others, brings with it a sense of drama and unfulfilled expectations.

The community which sprang up centuries ago around the fields of food led to our present day family unit and celebrations. However, family relationships are complicated. Families share similar DNA and yet, no one member is an exact clone of another. Even identical twins have differences of opinions, varied tastes, contradictory likes and dislikes. As family members age, recollections differ, stories are told in various recantations, and what seems funny to one group causes pain in another. Add to that the various ages and stages of aging and the mental issues that often arise with such and the stage becomes set not for care-free celebrations but intense family dramas that result in hurt feelings, stress, and anxiety. Going “over the river and through the woods” to a family gathering becomes a trip to an emotional mine field.

Holidays can cause so much stress that there are catch phrases for it such as “holiday blues; holiday blahs”. Even the website webmd.com has multiple entries regarding such including one which speaks directly to the gathering of family. “During the holidays, a lot of childhood memories come back,” says Duckworth, who is also an assistant professor at Harvard University Medical School. “You may find yourself dwelling on what was inadequate about your childhood and what was missing.” Even parents, especially older parents, can lead the drama. The same parents who years earlier would have disdained elevated anxiety are now seemingly causing it.

Any group of people is also a group of personalities. With that comes a gathering of not only food but possible health issues, both mental and physical. Suddenly one becomes caught up in differences instead of similarities. What has been easy to ignore the past eleven months suddenly becomes impossible to bear.

Many all over the world are just entering the winter holiday season. Whether rejoicing in a good harvest or trying to brighten the dreary winter months, families will gather, friends will party. Expectations will be high, perhaps impossibly too great. Just as many have forgotten that the American Thanksgiving Day became legal in the midst of fighting and the grief that such brings, we forget that the past year also brought the spoils of planting as well as the bountiful harvest. Sri Sathya Sai Baba once said: “Life is a mosaic of pleasure and pain. Grief is an interval between two moments of joy. You have no rose without a thorn. The diligent picker will avoid the pricks and gather the flower. There is no bee without the sting. Cleverness consists in gathering the honey nevertheless.”

The fragility of life includes both the thorns of living as well as the sweet smell of harvest and beautiful vision of joy. It has been said that only a country such as the United States would legalize a day of giving thanks in the midst of a civil war that pitted brother against brother, town against town, region against region. Perhaps we should not be surprised that such a gathering of people, in spite of continued differences, annually celebrates that day and the hopes it represented then and now. Perhaps that is why we continue to gather in spite of drama and remembered grief.

Perhaps we should return to the origin of the thanksgiving celebrations and think of the harvest. No farmer always reaps a plant from every seed. Earlier this month, the University of Illinois Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economics released a comparative table of average annual percent changes in yield per harvested acre, 1967-1971 versus 2010-2014. Their findings were as follows: peanuts 2.4%; corn, 2.0%; rice, 1.5%; barley, 1.4%;soybeans, 1.4%; wheat, 1.2%; oats, .5%; sorghum, .3%. With all of the technological advances in equipment, weather forecasting, pest management, etc., none of these yields, which are considered quite good, was over 2.5%. Maybe our average annual expectations of our gatherings should be more realistic, especially since they involve people – different people living different lives in different situations all coming together in close spaces trying to impress and increase their expected “yield” of gathering.

It is a quote credited to several: “Patience with family is love. Patience with others is respect. Patience with self is confidence. Patience with God is faith.” Our life begins with family and how we spend it largely depends on family. Holidays are how we define ourselves and our creeds for living. I hope that however you celebrate, you do so with kindness and respect. When we show love and honor to others, we give it to ourselves. Responsible celebration involves more than wise imbibing of food and drink. We are the hosts and hostesses to every situation of our lives, especially the gatherings. The kindness we show to others may not be immediately reflected back to us but the character we build by doing so is a harvest worthy of the effort. We are not defined by our harvest but by the way we plow our lives. Whether it be Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or Winter Solstice celebrations, we all have much for which to be thankful. We all have much to for which to dream and be of good cheer. We all have the need to gather together in hope and love. No man is an island. No more stands alone. We need our gatherings. We need to prepare for the harvest.

My Proverb 28

We should worry less about the harvest and worry more about the plowing. If we live a life of sowing goodness and kindness, then we reap a clear conscience.

Pentecost 177

Pentecost 177
My Proverbs 27

Harvest of Thanks

Born in 1821, Somerset, England farm boy George Williams described himself as “careless, thoughtless, godless, swearing young fellow”. He left his rural roots to go to London and, working as a draper, he found that there were few activities for a young man trying to live as he’d been raised. He gathered a group of coworkers who also worked as fabric merchants and together they began a club. It was a place where they could gather and live without being tempted into sinful activities – a place of fun and companionship, simple yet delightful celebrations of life encompassing the body, mind, and spirit.

For his efforts, which less than ten years after he began had become an international organization to provide a place for the young people of the world moving into the cities, George Williams was knighted by Queen Victoria. His Young Men’s Christian Association is now the World Alliance of YMCA. Their motto is “empowering young people,” and it is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. A stained glass window in the nave of Westminster Abbey denotes the world’s gratitude to this simple farm boy from Somerset who saw a need and went about filling it.

Born into a rather affluent family in Nottingham, young William Booth saw his family sink into poverty. At the age of thirteen, he became apprenticed to a pawnbroker and subsequently converted to the Methodist denomination of Christianity. On his twenty-third birthday he became a full-time preacher. However, Booth left the organized denomination nine years later and became an independent evangelist. As such, he was invited to speak at the Blind Beggar Public House. Tents were set up in London’s East End for the event and Booth found himself preaching to the most poor and destitute of society.

Booth felt he had found his calling in life and organized a group of volunteers to help him assist the needy, the poor, and even the criminal element that attended his meetings. Using the actual original definition of the word volunteer which is derived from the French word for army, Booth named his group of helpers the Salvation Army. In his book, a best seller in the late nineteenth century, Booth wrote: “I have no intention to depart in the smallest degree from the main principles on which I have acted in the past. My only hope for the permanent deliverance of mankind from misery, either in this world or the next, is the regeneration or remaking of the individual by the power of the Holy Ghost through Jesus Christ. But in providing for the relief of temporal misery I reckon that I am only making it easy where it is now difficult and possible where it is now all but impossible, for men and women to find their way to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Today the Salvation Army is in over one hundred and twenty-five countries and provides services in one hundred and seventy-five languages.

Many school and colleges are requiring volunteer experience as a part of their academic curriculum. Harvard Medical School defends its requirements for volunteering, also called service learning,: “Service learning unites academic study and volunteer community service in mutually reinforcing ways. …service learning is characterized by a relationship of partnership: the student learns from the service agency and from the community and, in return, gives energy, intelligence, commitment, time and skills to address human and community needs.”

The Hindu Temple of Indiana describes volunteering of “a gift of the self”. It is, in my humble opinion, the best possible definition. Prehistoric mankind needed his/her fellow man/woman in order to survive. Life was hard and the environment harsh. Survival depended upon working together. What we now call an altruistic spirit might be a holdover from our ancestors. There is no one demographic or socio-economic profile for a volunteer. They come from all races, all ages, and all belief systems.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, 61.8 million individuals in the United States of America contributed 8 billion hours of volunteerism in 2008 alone. The estimated, average value of just one hour of that volunteer service is $22.13 an hour. However, the real value of volunteering is the satisfaction and good-feeling the volunteer receives for being of service and help. Some volunteer to gain skills while others do it to improve their community.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “Not everything that counts can be counted. And not everything that can be counted, counts.” Today in Thanksgiving Day in the United States and it recognizes the community of helping that occurred almost four hundred years ago in a place that would later be known as Plymouth. The group seeking a new world for living their faith came together with people vastly different. They had nothing in common except their being of the same species. One group saw a need and filled it and another group was grateful. That is the true meaning of volunteer servie. That is the true meaning of gratitude for being alive. That is the only way to live.

My Proverb 27

It will not be the prettiest face or the most expensive gown, the fanciest car or the biggest house. It will not be the one with most “likes” or the most Twitter followers. The best living is found in the warmest hug, the simple smile, the heartfelt look of gratitude. No fancy parades, shiny trophies, or elegant red carpet events will determine winning in life. It will be a life made better, all for my having passed quietly through the world.