Last night I went to the Hollywood Bowl with my family to listen to some rock music, some Sousa and take in some fireworks. When the Song ‘America the Beautiful’ was played by the LA Philharmonic, I became quite emotional. It was not just then swelling of the violin and the horn that made me tear up – it was the realization in my mind that our country is really a prayer not just for Americans, but for everyone.
What is a prayer? Prayers take on many forms. Sometimes they’re formal, sometime informal. Sometimes spontaneous, sometimes highly choreographed. All prayer, no matter the form connects the human heart and soul to something beyond ourselves. Prayer makes us human, it is in many ways the most human thing we can do because prayer’s are unique to the human soul.
Most prayers fall into three categories:
Wonderment- finding our place in the vastness of the universe. Or “Wow.”
Thanksgiving- giving gratitude for our lives. Or “Thanks.”
Request – bringing to the surface the words that yearn in our hearts. Or “Please.”
‘Wow‘, ‘Thanks‘ and ‘Please‘ are the warp and woof of prayer. Together they form the a thick tapestry of our souls that bring us to a more meaningful life.
When I think about America I think of all those who have come here for a better life. I think of immigrants. I think liberty. I think of freedom. I think of this land, open and beautiful – a promise to all who come here aspiring for prosperity.
When I think of America, I think of Katherine Lee Bates, the poet who wrote the words to poem that became the song “America.” She meant it to be a devotional – a prayer. Two after visiting Pike’s Peak in Colorado, where she first scribed this poem, she published it in the Congregationalist – a church publication. Bates describes described feeling very tired hiking up the mountains, but when she looked over the country she was moved by overwhelming joy and the expanse of the land and what America is for so many – a prayer in our hearts.
We have to remember to be humbled by the experiment founded hundreds of years ago when community decided to build a nation – perhaps the first – that aspires to better over time. Not just preserve the past, but to transcend it, even with all the switchbacks to get to a more perfect union.
We have to remember to give thanks to all who have served in the cause of liberty to secure our way of life for the sake of our patriotic dream. Millions have served and died. Millions more serve today across the globe.
Perhaps most importantly, we have to remember what Bates wrote most famously – ‘God shed His grace on thee.’ That America with all its riches and power is not self-evident. It takes aspiration and grit. It takes feet to march, hands to clap, and voices to shout.
It also takes grace. Grace for each other to forgive our shortcomings. Grace for our soil so that the future might share in our prosperity. Grace for those who look to America as their holy land of salvation. Grace for those who are trying to make a living. Grace for those who find themselves in a world that feels new. Grace for each other when we make mistakes, and we will make many mistakes. Grace for what America might become if we see ‘beyond our years.’
Please, Please, Please.
That is my prayer. Wow. Thanks. Please.
America is a prayer.
America is beautiful.
Happy Independence Day