Happy Thanksgiving! I can’t resist a post about pilgrims and pilgrimages as we celebrate our Plymouth Pilgrims and their courage of so long ago.
The group of Calvinist Christians who left England for the New World in 1620 were not first called Pilgrims. They were called “Separatists.” They were similar in theology to the Puritans of the time, but the Puritans wanted to purify the Church of England whereas the Separatists wanted to create totally separate congregations of like-minded believers.
The term “pilgrim” seems to have come into use in the late 18th century as our new country honored these early settlers. They used the words that William Bradford had used in his written work, Of Plymouth Plantation: “So they lefte [that] goodly & pleasante citie, which had been ther resting place, nere 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrimes, & looked not much on these things; but lift up their eyes to ye heavens, their dearest cuntrie, and quieted their spirits.”
Of course, Bradford was alluding to the passage from Hebrews 11.13: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (KJV).
You probably know the story of the first Thanksgiving. Almost half of those sailing on the Mayflower died during the first winter. The next fall (1621) they had such a bountiful harvest that they celebrated with great gratitude, inviting their Native American neighbors to the feast (without whose help they would not have had such plentiful crops).
The hardships and deprivations those first Pilgrims endured is beyond my imagination. Besides losing so many companions in death, they left behind family and friends, most of whom they would never to see again. They left
comforts and familiarity, sacrificing for hope of a new beginning.
In Sacred Britain by M. Palmer and N. Palmer, the Rev. John Y. Crowe is quoted: “I thought how every Christian should go on pilgrimage at least once a year to relearn the evergreen truths of that primary metaphor. He travels light. He has no settled roof, assured rest or nourishment, except at his destination. He meets strangers. He must stay alongside people he does not greatly care for, and say farewell to others he quickly warms to. He is asked to share with those in need, to support those weaker than himself….”
We have been traveling for 91 days now. We’ve learned something about traveling light — making due with fewer clothes than we thought possible, paring down even further on short legs of the trip when we had weight limits on our plane rides. We’ve had a “settled roof” for no more than 6 nights anywhere. Sometimes we’ve had inadequate rest (there was the trip to Dublin where our plane was delayed 6 hours and we arrived about 1am!) and sporadic meals.
We have met kind strangers — like Andrew at Castlewellan who helped us deal with some problems with our buses, and Lilli at Eton Dorney who cheerfully cooked us delicious meals, provided a birthday cake for one student and made us feel very welcome — and many more. We had home stays in Belfast, “quickly warmed” to families whom we then had to leave.
We’ve learned about living in community — bearing with the weak, putting up with those we don’t get along with as well as others, sharing our candy bars or hot chocolate with each other. And many, many other lessons as well.
We will be moving on to Battisboro, England, at the end of this week, not far from the Pilgrims’ final departure port of Plymouth. On this Thanksgiving, as you gather with friends and family (hopefully the people you do greatly care for!), may you be filled with gratitude for all God’s good gifts to you!