In Thanksgiving Always…
In November we think on the Pilgrims and their voyage across the sea to the American continent in that storied ship the Mayflower, and the perils they faced in the unforgiving wilderness of Plymouth. Their desire to go as a people in a quest for community and religious freedom is a familiar story in cultures throughout human history. Their trials are a part of our American history, their faith and courage in the face of uncertainty, our legacy, their thanksgiving response to it all after a year of braving the sea and a new frontier by the guiding Hand of Providence, our heritage.
The Mayflower was not the passenger ship one might imagine would be used to cross the treacherous Atlantic with the large group of separatists seeking religious freedom and a new life. It was a cargo ship, and not the type of vessel that would provide any kind of comfort, other than buoyancy and shelter, to the 102 passengers and 25 to 35 crewman aboard. It was a grueling journey of more than two months just at sea. They departed England on September 6, 1620, well after the season that would be advisable for such a journey. These courageous and faith-filled men, women and children endured rough seas, brutish treatment on the part of some of the crew, unsanitary conditions, death, and the near sinking of their ship, before sighting land on November 9th. They would endure months more on the ship and land through the harsh winter of 1621 with meager supplies and enormous hardship. In all, 45 of the 102 who set sail, would perish from malnutrition, exhaustion and exposure, nevertheless, they kept their eyes single to their maker and trusted in God’s all merciful hand to provide wisdom and deliverance in a promised land. That year that began in the bleakness of winter ended in the first Thanksgiving feast with newly found native friends.
I can not help but compare the perilous journey of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower to some earlier mariners who also put forth on the seas in the faith that the Lord would ferry them to a promised land. I use the term mariner a bit loosely, for these earlier voyagers were like the faithful separatists of the 17th century, not sailors by trade, but good men and women traveling by means lead to them by God, putting their trust in Him. They too were seeking peace and community for their people, and the right to worship God freely.
The Jaredites had separated themselves as a people following the scattering of languages that occurred in the aftermath of the Tower of Babel. Their language preserved by the grace of God, they went forth guided by Him toward a promised land. The Lord directed them to build ships of His design to cross the seas where they could thrive as a people of God. They had to exercise great faith to get aboard these vessels and put their trust in Providence, and like the Pilgrims, that is exactly what they did.
In Ether 6:4-5 we read, “And it came to pass that when they had prepared all manner of food, that thereby they might subsist upon the water, and also food for their flocks and herds, and whatsoever beast or animal or fowl that they should carry with them—and it came to pass that when they had done all these things they got aboard of their vessels or barges, and set forth into the sea, commending themselves unto the Lord their God. And it came to pass that the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind.”
The Jaredite ships were built in a unique way that provided more secure passage across the sea than the construction of the Mayflower. They were constructed tight like unto a dish and similar to the ark of Noah, so that they could withstand great pressure from waves, fierce wind, and the currents of depths of the sea. God used these fierce winds and currents to move the Jaredite‘s toward the promised land and safety. And they cried unto the Lord in thanksgiving and faith throughout their journey that they might be protected and preserved. “And they did sing praises unto the Lord; yea, the brother of Jared did sing praises unto the Lord, and he did thank and praise the Lord all the day long; and when the night came, they did not cease to praise the Lord” (Ether 6:9).
Elder Charles A. Callis of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, during the challenging years of World War II, said, “We are told that when the Jaredites in their barges set forth for this land of promise, fierce and terrible tempests prevailed. The winds blew and they were in imminent danger all the while on that perilous journey. God sustained them. And we read that although these gales and tempests raged, holding destruction in their wake, that the wind was continually blowing toward the Promised Land. And these adversities through which we are passing, these terrible wars and all the horrible things that are prevailing, are in the power of God. He can stop them when He chooses, when His divine purposes are fulfilled. But let us not forget that through this sea of trouble, our adversities, the experiences through which we pass and which God will make work together for our good, if we will obey Him—all these are blowing us forward to the haven of rest, to a glorious future, to eternal life” (April 1943 General Conference).
The record states that the Jaredites were driven on the waters for three hundred and forty and four days, and when they landed upon the shore of the promised land, and had set their feet upon earth once more,
“…they bowed themselves down upon the face of the land, and did humble themselves before the Lord, and did shed tears of joy before the Lord, because of the multitude of His tender mercies over them” (Ether 6:12).
Two hundred and fifty-four days ago commenced a time that has been referred to as sheltering-in. In order to protect ourselves and our communities from the ravages of the COVID-19 coronavirus most of us have turned the places where we live into places of refuge, even tight like unto a dish. Our homes have become the bigger part of our world, and those with whom we live have become our community. Many have suffered from cabin fever, the results of long confinement and isolation. Loneliness and despair have also prevailed, even among those who have family all around, as our associations and communities have been curtailed. Just when things started to become a little more open and free, the virus has thundered back, like a succession of crashing waves, and forced a retreat back into isolation. It is helpful to remember this observation from the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Every wave of adversity has only wafted me that much closer to divinity.”
Even though this is not our preferential way to live, making our homes tight like unto a dish can protect us from viral effects, and can also be a place where we can in gratitude commune with our Heavenly Father and those with whom we are sheltering. We can practice greater self-reliance in temporal things, and in our own and family spiritual development. What better time is there than now for us to grow closer to God and become more in tune with His desires for us? Is there a better time for us to learn His word, and while becoming less reliant on the world, more reliant on He who loves and would save us all? Should we not gratefully allow the prevailing winds of God’s breath to push us toward the promised land where He would have us be?
In this season when gratitude is more prevalently on our minds, yet we are not as able to gather with those we love, let us think upon our history of overcoming trials. Let us act on our legacy of faith and courage in the face of uncertainty. Let us give those who come after us an heritage of gratitude, even in response to the trial-filled year that 2020 has proven to be. Those who went before us gave us as much, do we owe them, or our descendants, anything less? May God who is in His heaven, yet ever mindful of us, bless us to endure our time, even as did the Pilgrims and the Jaredite‘s theirs, and may we show our gratitude on bended knee, and in songs of praise lifted to the heavens, and in thanksgiving always. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.