• And They Knelt in Prayer

    “An open home, an open heart, here grows a bountiful harvest.” – Judy Hand

    Take a trip with me to the Berkeley Plantation, on the banks of the James River in the colony of Virginia. It is December 4, 1619. Capt. John Woodlief and 37 other settlers are holding hands and kneeling in prayer as this proclamation is read: “Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
    They were giving thanks for their safe arrival after a two-and-a- half- month voyage from Bristol, England. To this day, on the first Sunday in November, a Thanksgiving Festival is held on the grounds of Berkeley Plantation.


    Now, let us travel up the coast to Plymouth, Massachusetts. It is 1621. The Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians are sharing an autumn harvest feast. The colonists are not celebrating their arrival, they are celebrating their survival. The survival of a long and brutal winter in ‘New’ England. Of the 102 settlers, 18 were adult women, with only 4 surviving the winter.
    So, on that autumn day in 1691, 53 colonists and 90 Native Americans sat together in celebration and cooperation, for thankful they were. For the colonists, they knelt in prayer, giving thanks for their survival. For the Wampanoag’s, it was their tradition to celebrate the harvest and give thanks for a bountiful growing season. Together, they dined on venison, fowl, clams, oysters, Indian corn, leeks, pumpkin, chestnuts, acorns, onions, parsnips, and dried currants.

    (chron.com plymouth reenactment)

    And now, it is nearly November 27, 2008 – Thanksgiving Day. As you read this story, millions of Americans will be traveling from near and far to be with their families for Thanksgiving. Just what does it mean for you? It is a day to thank God for life, love, and joy as it was for the colonists in 1619? Or has it become Turkey Day football, and Christmas kickoff?
    Nevertheless, the turkey will be in the oven. The smell of (oyster) dressing will swirl around the house with cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and gravy waiting patiently on the stove. I, like many of you, will join hands with family and friends and bow our heads in prayer. We will ask God to bless our food, remember and take care of those who are no longer with us, thank God for life, love, and family, and keep those around our table safe and healthy.
    However, this year my prayers will include many other thoughts: I will take time to remember the sacrifices of those early colonists. I will remember not all tables will be as bountiful as mine. And pledge to share my bounty in the years to come so others may smile on Thanksgiving. I will give thanks to be living in a country that can elect a leader whose historical ancestors were slaves of that same country, only 140 years ago.
    The next time I walk into a bookstore, I will stop and look around and think, “Freedom is at my very fingertips.” Even as I write my stories, I never fail to give thanks for I can write my mind and feelings without fear of government censorship. Furthermore, on my next trip to a Veterans Administration Hospital, I will make a point to shake as many hands as possible and say, “Thank you. Thank you for your sacrifices.
    For your life has been ever changed, so mine can stay the same.”
    The next time I visit a National Cemetery, whether it is in Grafton, West Virginia or Arlington, Virginia, I will kneel among the thousands of white headstones and say, “Thank you, for what you gave, so my life can stay the same.”
    Lastly, this special prayer will be said for the thousands of men and women around the world defending what some of us take for granted, “Almighty God, protect and guide them home safely, for there is an empty chair at the table, waiting to be filled.”
    I just had a friend buried in a National Cemetery. He is now with his comrades. People like him have given me the freedom to write the stories I have written.
    May you all be in peace this Thanksgiving.