My favorite rendition of America the Beautiful is by Ray Charles. Maybe it is his soulful voice. Maybe it is the instrumentation. Likely, it is a combination of the two that makes Mr. Charles’ rendition resonate with me. Mind you he doesn’t include all the stanzas of the song in his version. He begins with the third stanza before returning to the first, omitting the second and fourth stanzas. Still, I could listen to it over and over again.
There is much to reflect on in the lyrics of the song that began as a poem written by Katharine Lee Bates and published in 1895. God shed His grace on thee is a natural starting place for such reflection. In one sense, the line is an acknowledgement that God has shed his grace on America, giving her the beauty of fields of amber grain and majestic mountains in hues of purple. In another sense, the line is a call to God to be involved, to intervene in our lives as a people of this nation, to shed His grace on us.
Our flawed nature comes into play in the second stanza, calling out to our creator to again intervene, God mend thine ev’ry flaw. You don’t have to look too hard to find many flaws in America these days. This line of the song could easily be part of our daily prayer.
This line is followed with Confirm thy soul in self-control, and Thy liberty in law. With the Sacrament of Confirmation we are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. So here within the song, we are asking God to seal the soul of our nation with self-control, to seal God’s liberty within our laws.
Now it may be a bit of a stretch, but when I think of the lines in the third verse, Who more than self their country lov’d, And mercy more than life, there is a connection to our Gospel this weekend. In the song we hear of sacrifice for the common good. In our Gospel reading Jesus tells us we should make everything secondary to Him, we should sacrifice for Him for the greater good.
The sentiment of sacrifice continues into the fourth stanza, O beautiful for patriot dream, that sees beyond the years. The line acknowledges vision beyond the present day, that recognizes the temporary nature of our existence, sacrificing for and leaving behind a legacy for future generations. Jesus shares a similar message, that we are a pilgrim people, that what we have and do here is temporary, but will lead to something greater.
One final observation. God is referenced in all four stanzas. It is a reminder that we need His presence in our lives as individuals and as a nation. I hope this comes to mind should you hear this song over the Fourth of July holiday. God bless America as we celebrate Independence Day. May He shed His grace on thee, and me, and all of us.
In the peace of Christ,