As little school children put on the silver belt buckled black hats of Pilgrims or colorful feathered head gear of Native Americans to sit in circles with paper turkeys traced from their handprint and to share candied corn, they retell the Thanksgiving story of 1621. While they do, the rest of us might benefit from contemplating our own nature as pilgrim people with native perspectives. When the guy who decided to call the native residents “Indians” realized how far off course he was, he must have done some major reorientation and recalculation. We are sometimes called to do the same.
Next week, I will lead a pilgrimage to the holy land. It is thought by us to be the land of promise for God’s people. It is the land where Jesus walked, preached, healed, suffered, and brought salvation to all people of all time. It is a blessed and adventurous voyage that I am fortunate to take. But most pilgrims don’t have it so good. Puritan Pilgrims of the seventeenth century left England through harrowing conditions, immigrating to a new and unknown world in search of religious freedom. The Wampanoag Tribe that shared an autumn harvest with them was later betrayed by some of the visitors. Today, as many asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants also forge along life threatening odysseys in hope of a better existence, our blessed society of privileged citizenry continues to welcome.
The Christian Scriptures remind us that we are all sojourners that desire the path to a greater life (1 Peter 2:11); we are strangers of earth for a brief time seeking a heavenly homeland (Hebrews 11:13). The Reverend Mary N. Keithahn wrote a hymn that proclaims: “We are pilgrims on a journey to another time and place, singing songs and telling stories to recall God’s love and grace. Light a candle on the journey where we’ll stop to rest and pray…Holy Spirit, light our pathway, walk with us along the way.” Though some have an easier road to travel than others, we are all on the journey together.
As I ponder whether I am a native of this land or a homeland beyond the universe, I want to reorient and recalculate my journey of faith to get back on course. I want to have the good manners of a guest who leaves the environment better because I visited. As a temporary resident, I want to view myself as a foreigner as much as I perceive outlanders or incomers in that way. As we look to Native Americans and to this land that we occupy, we ought to circle up periodically with those who have different head gear or skin color or cultic stories and songs and expressions to share what we have and be nourished by one another’s experiences at tables of fellowship. As I travel to the place of the Last Supper and First Mass, the place that points to the ultimate Thanksgiving Feast, I hope to better understand what it means to break bread as pilgrim companions on the journey. Our Hispanic friends say “companeros.” In the center is “pan” (bread). When we break bread together, we renew our status as companions of one another on earth and as pilgrims and natives in route to our true homeland, the new and eternal Jerusalem.