Thursday, November 24, 2011

Of Pilgrims, Patriarchs, and Politics

Whatever the reason the great biblical patriarch Abraham left this storied land, there’s a pattern to be discerned in his narrative that wasn’t lost on the “patriarchs” of early America, who not only devoured the Bible, but were intent on making it part of their personal experience. We know them as the “Pilgrims,” who sadly have been reduced to little more than caricatures in children’s books. 
These “Pilgrims,” as we know them, were people of extraordinary faith. It’s rather difficult in our own day to imagine that people might really be motivated to do extraordinary things by pure faith, but such were the Pilgrims. It was their powerful piety that led them to withdraw from the religious structure of their European land – the Church of England. Originally part of a larger movement known as the Separatists, they incurred the wrath of Britain’s King James I, who expected strict obedience from his subjects and condemned them as fanatics. Their first move involved crossing the Channel to the Netherlands, taking refuge in Amsterdam and subsequently Leiden. Holland was their equivalent of the ancient city of Haran, Abram’s midpoint on his long trek out of Mesopotamia. 
Such parallels weren’t lost on the likes of William Bradford, who later became governor of this rag-tag group and recorded their adventures in an illustrious memoir, Of Plymouth Plantation. Of their desperate crossing for the New World, undertook in September, 1620, he wrote: “They knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those pleasant things they were leaving, but lifted up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.” Whereas Abraham followed the desert trade routes of the ancient tribal nation called the Amorites, the Pilgrims navigated the sea routes of English colonists. Theirs was as much a voyage into the unknown as was that of the first biblical Patriarch, who knew nothing of his future “promised land.”