Today celebrates the painful reminder that the genocide of Native Americans created the most popular tradition in this country of giving thanks. Like so many other natives of this land, the Mashpee Wampanoag welcomed the pilgrims when they arrived in the 17th century, helped them harvest the land, survive the harsh climate and reap the abundance of the earth’s sustenance. In return, the Wampanoag were nearly destroyed by warfare and disease. Equally ironic is the fact that many of the English who came across the water were religious. Religion and spirituality, however, are different. When the Puritans convinced themselves that they were superior to the “red savages,” they missed the opportunity to learn the true lesson for which they had traveled so far: to realize the love of the Great Spirit who gives without ceasing.
I give thanks that I have learned my true ancestry, which is Native American, African, British, Asian, and Middle Eastern. What this establishes is that we all share not only a physical but also a spiritual ancestry. So we have to be careful to be grateful for that part of ourselves that must be uplifted as well as that part that must be transformed. Many of our native ancestors gave thanks for everything that was planted, for everything that watered and sustained life, for everything that was reaped, harvested or sacrificed to nurture body, mind and soul. Many of our English ancestors were greedy, selfish and brutal, taking what does not belong to anyone, robbing the land of divine love through murder and mayhem. We still suffer from this holocaust, as well as the one that enslaved our African ancestors, forcing them to build, farm and populate by raping, killing, maiming, and torturing them. We still suffer from these acts of calculated and systematic violence. One step toward giving thanks is to face what happened then so that we can co-create from a loving consciousness now – a love that is so awesome it will embrace the Great Spirit of forgiveness. Giving thanks is a reminder that we can stop suffering.
Another step in giving thanks is to stop hiding our fear and sense of inadequacy by filling our bellies with big birds and warm pies and losing ourselves in the mindlessness of sports or other entertainment. Instead, we can pray for those who have suffered and for those who are still suffering, and become an integral part of their healing. We can help end a tradition that abhors differences and espouses a culture of superiority and division. Instead, we can endorse the love of diversity and inclusion and peace and nonviolence. The Great Spirit summons us to see that the suicide rate among Native Americans between ages 15 and 24 is 2.5 times the national rate, and the graduation rate among American Indians and Alaska Natives is the lowest for any racial or ethnic group. A disproportionate number of Native Americans are also killed by police.
We forget that the guns of violence arrived on the same ships that carried bibles. We fail to recognize that most read the violence in the scripture literally rather than realize it is symbolic of the war in our own souls, which can only be won with love. Another step in giving thanks is to love without condition. I entered the subway train this week and saw a man who appeared to be Middle Eastern sitting away from the crowd. In NYC, this means that other passengers have shunned him – either due to discomfort or fear. As I approached him with the suspicion that perhaps my fellow passengers had witnessed something that I had not, I sat there by him in prayer. Our prayers must not simply give but be peace.
A woman stopped me the other day to complain about Christians who accept those who are transgender. I mentioned the most basic tenet of Jesus’ teachings, who by the way was not Christian, which is “love one another.” The English might have brought the bible, but the Wampanoags knew the truth – that we must help each other rather than be divisive. We must weather the storm together. We must show each other the river and the trees that will bear much fruit. We must partake of the truth that we are here to bless rather than to deny one another.
We cook the mac and cheese, the Cornish hens, the dressing, the collard greens, the green beans, the crab cakes, the apple pies, and the bread pudding with pecan sauce, but we never stop to thank the Great Spirit for the sun and the water and the land which our ancestors sowed and the benefit that we have to reap the blessings of the new world of fish and fowl and grain and trees and livestock and endless creation. We fail to realize that our prayers began long before the world was called new and friend and foe sat together at the table of eternity as one. We take for granted our morning cup of green tea and crackers that will sustain us as we travel on the wings of our forefathers and foremothers’ prayers – who taught us better than that.
Jesus said “before you come to the altar and pray,” forgive all that has transpired before you. I forgive those who landed on Plymouth Rock with violence and deception. I will pray to the Great Spirit of the Wampanoag, the People of the First Light. I will pray to the Great Spirit of the Punkapogs, Narragansett, Nipmuck, Mohegan, Schaghticoke, Malaseet, and other tribes that the ancestors of the world remind us that we speak with one tongue, which is the grace of God.
Oh ancestors of endless time, sacred space and all humanity, you who have given your lives to bestow on us a holiday of gratitude, teach us to give thanks in all things. Open our hearts to continue to be loving to strangers. May our souls see that we are our brother’s and our sister’s keepers. May our hearts reveal that Cain never stops getting killed until we surrender to your eternal peace.
Oh, Great Spirit, allow us to accept our international family and stop taking without giving. Oh Great Spirit, we are sad because of the death of Native Americans, but also because of the hunger and violence in Africa, and because of the wars throughout the world, as well as terrorism and fear, such as that in France and Texas and Florida and Maryland and Detroit – and everywhere that we are.
We are grateful for your land that continues to feed us. Most of us have never experienced hunger.
Teach us, Great Spirit, the true lesson of the Wampanoags, which is divine love.
Help us know that your truth is too substantial to be confined to a book or a religion and that our good medicine is a world that lives in your heart. Those who crossed the water came to this great land to heal their souls rather than to fill their pockets.
Great Spirit, may we be anointed with the divine light that they failed to see. Teach us to take the time Great Spirit to give thanks for all things – not only for our Native ancestors but also for the good that the English ancestors brought and for the power of our African, Asian, Middle Eastern and all other ancestors in the Americas and throughout the world.
This is the ultimate day of gratitude, a prayer whose thanks keeps giving throughout eternity.
May we be that prayer of peace throughout the land, the hope of glory throughout the world: the heart of a sacred space where we can continue to plant seeds of compassion and sit together with new vision at the table of eternal grace.
May your prayers wrap its wings around our consciousness, Great Spirit.
May our thanks never stop giving.
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