We Gather Together

As the autumn leaves blew, the sounds of toil and mirth intertwined, carried with the scent of roasting venison on the wind. It was cold, the stiff breeze wafting through the tiny copse of houses, clustered together as though raccoons huddled for warmth. The days had grown chilly and brief; soon the snow would come, and those who had built the village would seek refuge in its houses, windows shuttered against the frost as their precious new world slept beneath a blanket of white. That would not come for weeks, though. For now, it was a time to celebrate their hard work, their good fortune, and the great and loving God who had guided them to their forest across the mighty sea.

The journey had been arduous and long. For what seemed as though eternities they had crossed the sea, their tiny ship bobbing like a cork through storms as they, the faithful few, sat shoved like tinned tobacco leaves in the hold below deck. In anxious silence and filth they had sat, exchanging worried glances, gasping with each rough jolt of the timbers beneath their feet. As the maelstroms raged and the planks creaked, they closed their eyes, tears wetting their cheeks as they lifted their thoughts in silent prayer. They had lost so much…they had been ridiculed and jailed, driven from their homes and then driven out again, yet still they refused to cease their belief. Their faith had led them this far; it could lead them a little further.

Bedraggled and filthy, their ship battered, at last they had clambered ashore, and set foot upon a new world. Upon a great rock that looked out upon the crashing sea, they had knelt to give thanks to He who had led them to this place, virgin and new. Yet soon it appeared less virginal, as men appeared from the trees. These were the people of this land; humans with their own culture and values, their own language, and as with the newcomers they sought peace. In this, the pilgrims who had crossed the sea found kindred spirits, and in time an accord grew into friendship.

The first winter had been hard. In the cold they had shivered and starved, unprepared for the ravages of winter. Strange disease pervaded their town and spread like the pox, and soon the beds began to fill with the sick and infirm. The adults lay at death’s door, a hair’s breadth from the Kingdom of their Lord, with the children left to tend to the colony and mature before their time. They had watched many friends die…planted too many crosses…but those who remained were stronger for the hardship. When spring came, their friends provided sympathy and guidance, and the newcomers listened and learned well. Now, what had begun in tragedy had led to jubilation. At last, their dream of a home free from the shackles of tyranny was made real. At last they were free.

Though it was hard to see, from their vantage point on that blustery autumn day, they were living on the threshold of great uncertainty. The coming years would bring more ships, more people, up and down the coast across their new world. With those ships would come cotton and tobacco, gunpowder and distrust, Anglicans and judgement. In time, their new friends, those who had long called the foreign forest their home, would be demonized, vilified, driven from their huts and marched across the plains to the unwanted deserts beyond. There would be wars and anxiety, depression and pain. From their humble village and simple compact, a great nation would be set forth upon their new world; a curious hodgepodge of a place, a patchwork quilt of so many peoples and creeds and hopes and dreams and values. It would be a great experiment, all begun in tearful prayer, atop a great rock that looked out upon the crashing sea.

For now, though, as fish and corn boiled in great cauldrons beneath a canopy of orange and red, all of that remained far away. For now, all was well. The newcomers donned their Sunday best, as their new friends joined them at the table to celebrate their bounty and good fortune. Corn cakes and roast fowl were piled high on plates, cups brimmed with cider as the faithful indulged in that most European tradition of celebrating the harvest. Heads bowed in prayer, handshakes and trinkets were exchanged with their friends. There might be trouble ahead, but for now the whole of their community took a well-earned moment to catch their collective breath.

Rough days lay ahead, both for the pilgrims of a distant land and the new nation they’d now begun. Yet for the moment, all of that could wait. Tomorrow the sun would rise, the day would shrink, and they’d be a step closer to the next challenges they’d face. Today, the venison was finished, the cider was poured, and their new friends were waiting. Today would be a good day.

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