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"Thanksgiving: The Imaginary Pilgrim"   Larry Reimer   November 19, 2000

Psalm 30
I wrote the following as an imagined diary of one who with 101 other pilgrims set sail on September 15, 1620, for the New World on a ship they called Mayflower.

October 11, 1620
It is midnight. The ship lurches from side to side. I grasp the base of my small lamp with one hand and write with the other. I fear that we are about to die. The wind blew so hard today that the main beam in the middle of the ship cracked. In the cabin above me the captain and our leaders consider whether we will turn around and try to make it back to Holland, or forge ahead to the New World. We have been at sea for one month. My wife has been so sick that she has hardly been able to eat a meal a day. I have not fared much better. Our small daughter, Anne, is somehow immune to the discomfort of the sea and keeps us afloat with her joy and light.
Is this journey faith or foolishness? There is no visible reason to think either this writing or I will survive this passage. If these words are read, then this shall be confirmed a journey of faith. If not, we have been fools.
Any person that might by chance find this diary should know this of me. I have no home. My parents died when I was twelve. A kind aunt and uncle took me to their farm just outside Scrooby, England where I worked by day and read by night. In my loneliness I found the bible. Like the Israelites and like Jesus, I have no real place to lay my head that is truly mine. Yet also like Jesus and the Israelites, I have found that the journey itself is my home. I am a pilgrim.
There has been upheaval all around us. In Germany, Luther challenged the pope. In Switzerland Calvin did the same. In England, the church simply traded the pope for the queen. The Church of England is for me a place of a cold and distant God. Yet in reading my bible at night, in my room, I experienced God as light in my darkened world. When I turned sixteen I told a neighbor of this strange difference of experiences between my church and my private faith. The neighbor in turn invited me to a gathering in his home. I became part of what I now realize was revolution. These people wanted a church without bishops and priests. Some wanted to purify the church from within. They even called themselves Puritans. Others saw no hope for the Church of England and they wanted to separate from it altogether. They called themselves Separatists.
I raised my hand to join the Separatists. I loved the excitement of that moment. I don’t know if it was the thoughtlessness of youth or the leadership of the Holy Spirit, but I believed we were rediscovering the church as Jesus meant it to be. In this church the queen had no right to rule our faith, nor did the bishop have a right to order our belief. Our community said we were a family of equal brothers and sisters. I, a sixteen-year-old, was as much a child of God as any elder priest.
Our excitement was short-lived. Arriving late for one of our evening meetings, I found, instead of quiet study and worship, the constables dragging men and women out into the street, clubbing them viciously, and hauling them off to the jail. A few of my sisters and brothers in faith who had escaped grabbed me and whisked me into the shadows of safety. From then on we had to meet in secret.
For two years we gathered invisibly. A kind man, John Robinson, became our pastor. A beautiful girl, Elizabeth, became my true love. Every day dear friends were arrested and left in jail to languish. In 1609, Pastor Robinson reported that if we wished to go to Holland, the Dutch people would welcome us and let us practice our faith freely and openly. The decision was up to us. We discussed the idea. We voted. We went to Holland. We were pilgrims.
Tonight the ship heaves and groans, sounding as if it will simply let go of all its bindings and seams. I can write no more.

October 12, 1620
In a shipboard meeting of our whole group this morning, we decided not to turn back. For the rest of the day we labored to rebuild the main beam. We refastened it below, caulked the upper decks as well as we could to seal out the rain and high seas. We sail on through the storms.

October 15, 1620
The storms have continued so fiercely that for days we could set only the barest of sail. John Howland was thrown into the sea this morning. As he was going over, he caught hold of one of the halyards. It was I who saw him go over. I grabbed hold of the line to which he also hung for dear life. I cried out for help. Three fellows came and held the line while another got a boat hook and hoisted him out of the water. He is breathing and awake, but I don’t know if he will live.
I think back to Holland. We had peace there for ten years. I married my beloved Elizabeth. Our daughter was born. We were well. We were safe, but it was not our land. It was not our language. We were then given this chance to form a new community in the New World, to build the city on the hill that Jesus spoke of, one whose light would be a beacon to a darkened world.
John Robinson urged us forward, but he was forbidden to come with us. He said that if God should reveal himself to us in new ways, we should be ready to receive it. I remember his last words as we sailed, “The Lord hath yet more truth and light to break fourth out of his Holy Word.” I was thrilled with the thought of a new land, a new church, and a home.

November 20, 1620
Another month has passed, and we have come to the land called Cape Cod. We have been aboard the Mayflower for sixty-five days. There are no friends to greet us. The season is winter. Before us is a weather-beaten land, sharp and violent. Behind us is the vast sea, which we cannot recross. There is only food enough on the ship for the crew to take with them to return.
Psalm 107 is my comfort, “Let them praise the Lord, because he is good: and His mercies endure forever. Some went down to the sea in ships… they reeled and staggered and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress… He brought them to their desired haven.”
Land, however bleak, stands before us. We are saved.

November 21, 1620
Thirty of us lowered the landing boat seeking a safe harbor. As soon as we set sail, a fierce snowstorm set in. The wind broke our single mast in three places and the sail fell into the sea. The knifelike waves broke our rudder, and the only way to guide our boat was with our oars. Our pilot saw a harbor, but we could not reach it before it became dark. We stopped in the lee of a small island, and remained there all night. There, on the land we called Plymouth Rock, we built fires to dry and warm ourselves, for the north wind was indeed freezing us as we huddled together for shelter.

November 22, 1620
In the morning, as the Lord promises, the sun rose bright and clear. We gave thanks to God and fixed our broken boat. From our island we rowed to the mainland. There we found a stream of freshwater, which quenched our parched lips finer than all the beer, and wine we had carried on our ship.

November 23, 1620
Today we returned to the Mayflower which waited for us just outside the rocky harbor. While all around me rejoice in the land we have discovered, my heart is broken. My dear Elizabeth, having survived this terrible journey, was washed overboard in the storm we had endured the night before.
With the others I prepare to bring the ship in to the mainland.

December 16, 1620.
Landing the Mayflower has been much more difficult than we first predicted. We tried to land yesterday, but the winds would not let us. Today we made our second attempt. In spite of my broken heart, I must keep going for our dear little daughter, Anne. Along with the others, I went ashore and began to build a common house where we and our goods could stay the winter. I am cold. This manuscript and I survived the passage. But without Elizabeth, to what purpose?
I cannot write any longer.

November 22, 1621, one year from my last entry
I have found this paper again, a year from when I landed with the party on our longboat, a year from when Elizabeth died. I could hardly stop then to mourn my own loss. Half of our community perished over the winter. But we survivors have made a pact to live and seek the light we hoped to share with others.
The Indians gave us life itself. If there was a new revelation to be had, as Pastor Robinson suggested, it was these Indians. One of their number, named Squanto, had been kidnapped six years ago by an English slaver. Four years later he escaped. When he returned he discovered his entire tribe, the Patuxets, had died from disease. He has adopted us as his family, and has spoken to the other Indians for us. The Indians were instruments of God. They showed us how to plant corn, where to fish. None of us were hungry this summer, thanks to Squanto.
Today we have gathered to give thanks. Half of us are gone. Another winter lies before us. We do not know whether this colony will survive. But we hope that somehow our journey will light the way for generations to come. We hope that from now on there will always be a church where the people will determine their destiny, and that from this a nation of freedom and justice will rise. I have taught my daughter that there is nothing so precious as to be able to freely gather on the Sabbath in silent awe, in expectation that through the reading of God’s word and the gathering of God’s people, the Lord will show us his face.
We pray every day that we may live the light of the Lord, treasure our freedom, and honor the sacrifices of those who could not finish the journey. Like John at the island of Patmos, we dare to believe that we are looking upon a new heaven and a new earth.
What will you who read this years hence take from our experiment in this land? Will you give thanks for a church which cost half of us our lives and all of us our homes? Will you see yourselves and this nation as a city on a hill whose beacon is peace? Will you cherish this legacy we give you in a church where you may live your own dreams? Will you walk, as a nation, in the paths of peace and justice?
I ask only of those who read this to delight in each other. Make the cares and concerns of others your own. If those around you are happy, celebrate with them. If they are hurting, grieve with them. If anything sustained us through this last year, it is that we labored, suffered, and celebrated together. We always had our eyes on our community as one body. By living this way we have glimpsed moments of heaven on earth. And that above all is why we give thanks.

Updated: 00.11.22 - hto