I have to confess, I have been thinking so much about my 70th birthday this month that I was not paying attention to July 4th. We raised our children with the joy of parades and wearing red, white and blue at neighborhood get-togethers. On our own, we have delighted in fireworks reflecting in the waters of Lake Beseck. But this year, the 4th of July feels entirely new.
Preparing for a July 18th Zoom program, “The Wisdom of Grief, The Promise of Hope,” for my friends at Pilgrim’s Landing on Cape Cod. (click here for information) has added another lens to my patriotic ponderings. My last in-person grief-retreat was with these folks in Chatham MA on March 7, just as the virus was on the horizon. We experienced the nourishment of community that day, as we shared the personal pain that each brought into the room. I was asked to return, via Zoom, to address the losses we are experiencing, particularly as Americans, due to the virulent presence of Covid 19 and the painful, impossible to ignore, revelations of systemic racism in our country. On July 18th, we will come together to recognize and process the collective grief we share at this time. You are invited to join us.
I bring all of this to my prayer today. Our flag is up, potatoes and eggs lay waiting for their role in the day, the lake is getting busy – but July 4th, 2020 is like no other. My heart returns to the lyrics of “God Bless America” with a new layer of awareness. I reach out to you to join me in a prayer of grief and of hope – each holding the other – as we walk through the landscape of loss together.
God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her, through the night from the light up above.
Irving Berlin, a Jewish immigrant, wrote these lyrics as a soldier in a World War I army camp. The song was set aside from a musical revue, because Berlin felt it was too somber for their theme, “Yip, Yip, Yaphank.” Singer Kate Smith needed a patriotic splash during World War II, and Berlin was approached. The song became Smith’s signature song, singing it nearly every day for two years, rivaling the national anthem in popularity for years. The story goes in a July 3, 2019 New York Times article (click here), that Kate Smith’s long held “ownership” of the song was tarnished in 2019, when her early career, racist songs came to light.
My prayer invites me to step back through time… my hands reach out and part the shadows of Smith’s well-meaning and intentionally commercial invocation for God to bless America. I see, but look past, her racist history embedded in our American story. Further back, I imagine Berlin, a new citizen in the military, writing the piece as the love song it is. And even earlier, I watch his parents bringing this 5 year old child from Russia to escape anti-Semitic persecution in Russia. An immigrant’s prayer of gratitude becomes my prayer of hope and healing.
God, please bless America. Like all of us, she is waking up to her flaws and failures, while trusting her gifts and goodness. God, please bless America as she navigates a needed transformation to maintain a safe home for all of your children that live here. Bless her, O God, as she seeks to offer a light to those hurting in the world.
God bless each of you, dear friends,