Places have power. I learned this again this week as I visited Massachusetts. There is something about standing where others have stood that makes history come alive, that makes old stories seem fresh, new and more powerful.
I visited Plimouth Plantation, where there is a reconstructed Pilgrim village. I stood in a one room church building and looked at the pulpit, a small elevated structure facing simple wooden benches. There were no decorations or stained glass. I was reminded of the simple intensity of the Pilgrim’s faith. Their belief in God’s call on the individual and of the importance of the local church had caused them to leave everything and everyone as they sailed 3000 miles to their new home.
We toured the grounds of the village and went inside the small homes that illustrated the simplicity and difficulties of their daily lives. As I looked at the sparse furnishings and clay walls I was reminded that these were a people who were more concerned with eternal things than earthly goods and needs. I thought about how difficult it was simply to eke out a living, of the labor required to acquire food and shelter. These people were committed.
As I looked at the small village and later as I visited the Mayflower II in Plymouth Harbor I thought of the bonds they must have shared. Over 2 months at see on a small ship would force them to live in community, as would they work required to survive when they arrived. I thought of the shared grief as they lost half of their number within the first three months. Was there a day when a grave was not being dug, filled or prepared?
Later in the week we walked the Freedom Trail in Boston. We stood by the grave of John Hancock. I thought of the brashness of the man who boldly declared himself a traitor to the King of England by signing his name in massive letters on the Declaration of Independence. We saw the burial place and then the home of Paul Revere, a silversmith who became a legend. We walked by the churches and meeting houses where many began their transformations from Englishmen into Americans and wondered about the debates and the arguments that must have occurred.
I was moved by the truth that both the patriots and the pilgrims were motivated by deeply held beliefs. They shared the belief that each person was a child of God and as such had value. This belief was the basis of the Mayflower compact, the initial promise that all would work together in the new land, and of the Declaration of Independence which declared that “all mean are created equal.”
I was moved by the realization that everything I have and hold dear in life I have because others believed and others sacrificed. These forefathers and founding fathers did not merely pay lip service to their ideals. They risked their lives for them. Standing where they stood I found myself praying that I may be one day found as faithful.