Today, being the Sunday closest to Independence Day, is one of two occasions in the church year (of the Episcopal Church, at least) upon which a national day is recognized, the other being Thanksgiving. We used a special litany of prayers this morning, and there was mention of our nation during the celebrant's preface to the Eucharist, but that's about it — pretty low key.
As our dismissal hymn, we sang "America the Beautiful", which is the national hymn of the United States — something I didn't know until today. I love this hymn, I always have enjoyed singing it, and, like most Americans, I know the first verse by heart. But I hadn't sung this hymn since the invasion of Iraq. It wasn't anything conscious — it just hadn't come up.
This morning, I abruptly found myself getting choked up during the organ introduction, something I have never done. I could only sing a few words here and there during the first verse as my voice cracked with emotion and my eyes filled with tears.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
for amber waves of grain,
for purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plain!
God shed his grace on thee,
and crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.
My tears were not tears of joy or gratitude, but tears of sorrow for what we have become, tears of sorrow for what we are not, tears of sorrow for so much potential discarded like glitzy wrapping paper. This hymn, I realized, is begging God for grace. "America! America!" is a cry, not a triumphant shout.
I thought it would get better with the next verse, and that I might actually be able to sing. But, like most Americans, I hadn't paid much attention to the second verse, especially the words of the chorus:
O beautiful for heroes proved
in liberating strife,
who more than self their country loved,
and mercy more than life!
God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control,
thy liberty in law.
I don't think I was able to croak more than a few words, as I openly wept — as I am doing now.
Mend thine every flaw…
Liberty in law…
My God, my God, what has happened to us???
I did not know how much I loved my country until today, until I wept in realization of what we Americans have lost, how much we continue to lose, and just what is at stake in our Great Experiment. Is this what patriotism feels like — love of country, rather than pride of country? It must be, because this hurts in a way that only love can hurt. Oh, this hurts….
Many times when I write essays, I try to prod people into action. There is no call to action today — except this:
Weep with me. Weep for America, and pray for a better birthday next year.