a Memorial Day reflection

American flag image

Today is Memorial Day. An American annual holiday devoted to the commemoration of those who died in the service of the country as members of the armed forces.

Though Memorial Day is embedded, I think fairly and rightly, within the fabric of America’s civil religion, thus bearing no inherent identification with any institutional doctrinal code or creed, early this morning, in remembrance, I reached for my Episcopal Church’s The Book of Common Prayer and read and reflected on the prayer For Heroic Service:[1]

O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As an American, I am grateful for those in generations past who made and unto this day who make that ultimate sacrifice of life for the sake of our country.

I also pray that “all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom”; for I believe that some of us – among myriad examples, those of us who are un-or-under-employed who yearn to labor and earn their daily bread, those of us who are victimized and wrongly incarcerated by our legal system that, far from blindly impartial, often moves sluggishly, if at all, without the lubricant of financial resource, and those of us still tainted, tarred with whatever label of class, ethnicity, or race deemed “the other” – do not “share the benefits of true freedom.”

Moreover, as one who holds in constant tension his pride in his national identity and (in resistance to the temptation of American nativism, which I think national celebrations can encourage) his respect for others, I amend the petition above, praying that “all the people of every land share the benefits of true freedom.” In this, I recall the stirring words of a Unitarian Universalist hymn, which, set to the serene melody Finlandia, embolden my hope for a broader vision of humankind than can be viewed through any national lens:

This is my song, O God of all the nations, a song of peace for lands afar and mine;

this is my home, the country where my heart is; here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:

but other hearts in other lands are beating with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

 

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean, and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;

but other lands have sunlight too, and clover, and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:

O hear my song, thou God of all the nations, a song of peace for their land and for mine.[2]

 

Footnotes:

[1] Page 839

[2] This is My Song, stanzas 1 and 2, Lloyd Stone (1912-1993)