There’s a soft breeze coming through the open doors leading onto the deck this morning, and it reminds me of the breeze that comes off the ocean early in the morning in Florida. Perhaps I’m thinking of Florida because I’m visiting Mom next month, and as the time draws closer, the anticipation of seeing her grows stronger.
And perhaps I’m nostalgic for a kinder, gentler time when our country didn’t feel so torn apart, when America was the land of the free and the home of the brave, and I thrilled over our purple mountains majesty and golden waves of grain. And every time we sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a swim meet, when I was a young girl, my heart burst with pride for this country I love so much. Or perhaps that time in our country never existed?
Patriotic pride is exactly what I felt last Wednesday evening as I listened to our own National Repertory Orchestra perform Aaron Copeland‘s “Suite from Appalachian Spring” and then William Grant Stills’ “In Memorium for Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy,” both pieces conducted by Teddy Abrams a magnificent conductor and pianist.
“Appalachian Spring” is one of my favorite pieces of music and contains the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts.” I was unfamiliar with the composition by William Grant Still, who Abrams pointed out was one of the most important African American composers of the 20th century. As the title of his composition suggests, he honors the African-American soldiers who died serving our country and as in “Appalachian Spring,” Still’s composition contains melodies of hymns carried down through the ages by African-American Christians.
As I pondered the inclusion of religious hymns in both compositions, it reminded me that our American history is inextricably intertwined with not only the fight for personal freedom but also religious freedom and these musical prayers, because surely that is what a hymn is.
And so when I feel disappointment with our political leaders, I remember that it is the common men and women who made this country great, whose faith in God strengthened them to fight against bigotry and hate. They stepped into the breach, often risking their own safety, to help.
Throughout our American history, people of all faiths have worked together — from the Protestant churches that provided shelter along the underground railroad to help escaping slaves find freedom, to the Jewish men and women who participated in Southern civil rights marches, to the Catholic charities who work at the borders to help immigrants find food and sometimes sanctuary, to the Muslim brothers and sisters who offer help after a shooting at a Jewish synagogue.
My grandparents and great-grandparents came to this country in search of better lives, and that is the story of America. Our United States was built on the backs of people who came here or were brought here from Asia, from Africa, from Europe from South America. They came sharing the same dreams that my ancestors and yours shared, the hope for a better life for themselves and their future generations. These new immigrants did the dangerous and backbreaking work in factories, fields and construction sites that we did not want to do.
It is our responsibility to not let their hard work and the lives they gave, whether in work or in military service, to build our country and secure our freedom, be forgotten. It is our responsibility to form a country that continues to be the home the free, the brave, where we believe all persons are created equal and have the same right to happiness and freedom.
When our political leaders fail to act with swiftness as immigrants suffer at our borders, religious folk of all faiths must act as they have throughout our history. Now is the time for leaders, such as Franklin Graham and Rick Warren, and Catholic charities, who do so much for international disaster relief, to step up to provide food and blankets and medicine for the children going without at our nation’s borders.
America remains the greatest country in the world because of our shared belief in freedom, fairness, a belief in God’s golden rule, and the compassion his son Jesus Christ taught us in the beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at [email protected].