Thanks for the New World
“To those who followed Columbus and Cortez, the New World truly seemed incredible because of the natural endowments. The land often announced itself with a heavy scent miles out into the ocean. Giovanni di Verrazano in 1524 smelled the cedars of the East Coast a hundred leagues out. The men of Henry Hudson's Half Moon were temporarily disarmed by the fragrance of the New Jersey shore, while ships running farther up the coast occasionally swam through large beds of floating flowers. Wherever they came inland they found a rich riot of color and sound, of game and luxuriant vegetation. Had they been other than they were, they might have written a new mythology here. As it was, they took inventory.” - Frederick Turner
Columbus Day is a difficult holiday to know how to celebrate. For many of us, it is nothing more than a day when banks and post offices are closed. For others it may mean remembering the explorer who “discovered” the Americas. But for the descendants of the peoples who inhabited these lands before the arrival of European settlers, and for those whose ancestors were brought here from Africa as slaves to those settlers, it is a day fraught with mixed emotions at best. For better or worse, the United States would not exist as we know it today without the exploration of Columbus and those who followed him, and there has been a lot of both better and worse in the wake of those voyages.
Frederick Turner’s quote above is haunting. It is hard for us today to imagine the natural riches he describes in the “New World” as they must have been five hundred years ago, the beauty and bounty of the land these explorers were seeing for the first time in their lives. What is so chilling for me about the quote is Turner’s summary of the men’s response to this majestic discovery: “they took inventory.”
Each day holds new discoveries for all of us, some big, some small. When we meet someone new, learn something new, meet new challenges at work or in our personal lives, see a new place for the first time, we have a choice about how we respond to these new worlds. Do we take inventory, asking, “How can this meet my needs and desires?” Or do we stop to see it as a gift, to listen for the still small voice of God whispering love to us through this discovery, to be inspired to give thanks, to realize that we are part of a much bigger world that does not revolve around us? Whether or not Turner is correct in his assessment of the response of those who came before us, he gives us a lot to think about in how we deal with our own new world called today.
Dear God, forgive us for the times we have misused the people, experiences, and blessings you have placed in our lives, seeing them only as means to our own ends. Thank you for your grace to start today anew. Help us to live with the sense of wonder we had as children, to greet the new discoveries of each day with awe and gratitude. Amen.
-- Chaplain Stacy N. Sergent