Celebrating our nationhood in poetic reflection
As we come to the week in which our nation celebrates its heritage, one of our intercessions on Sunday, July 5 will invite those in ‘virtual worship’ to prayer:
We pray for the nations, especially the United States and Canada, celebrating their nationhood. Guide leaders in developing just policies and guide difficult conversations. Free us from patriotism that hinders relationship-building. Lead us to expansive love for our neighbor. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
In keeping with our prayer, you are invited to receive the gifts of two poets in this midweek congregational email, gifts for reflection as we approach our nation’s Independence Day celebration. The first, “The New Colossus” written by Emma Lazarus, was cast onto a bronze plaque and mounted inside the pedestal’s lower level at the base of the Statue of Liberty in 1903.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
When Lazarus wrote this poem in 1883, immigrants were entering the United States in great numbers, including Italians, Greeks, and Russian-Jewish refugees. Hers was an Italian sonnet written by a Jewish-American woman, celebrating a statue forged in France and contrasting it with a counterpart in ancient Greece.
This statue, Lazarus insists, is “not like” the Greek Colossus, domineering and male, which in the third century BCE stood at the harbor of the island of Rhodes, like some conquering guardian. No, this statue holds a beacon in her hand, signaling nothing less than “world-wide welcome.” She is the “Mother of Exiles.” She is unarmed, a beacon in one hand and a votive tablet in the other, a common shape in ancient Greece for inscribing prayers or aspirations, and on this tablet is inscribed the date the United States formally broke from English rule: July 4, 1776.
In Lazarus’ poem, Lady Liberty is an image of peace and hospitality. This isn’t the old colossus, but rather a new one. Far from keeping people out, Lady Liberty, that “mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning,” is welcoming us in. In a time of national angst, I find that “The New Colossus” calls we who celebrate our nation’s heritage to a shared identity heralding freedom, humility, welcome and hope in our global community.
The other poem for our July 4 reflection was written by Trinity member Bob Carlson, a Porter Hills neighbor. 89 years young, Bob shared this poem with me after receiving one of my congregational emails last week. Bob wrote, “I have been thinking about some of the events that are constantly on the news, along with the pandemic and its power to change our society. Yesterday, I sat down at the computer and wrote my thoughts in poetry form.” Bob’s poem, written on Sunday, June 21, is entitled, “Infused with Love, We’ll Beat the Pandemic.”
We are the shades of the great USA;
People of all shades at work or at play.
We may talk in different sounds of voice
But we are all pure Americans by choice.
We live and we learn, as we work and earn;
We face our country’s problems with concern.
We may live in quite different places,
But we are all rightful American races.
We are all different; the way God made us,
But in our past, this has created a ruckus.
So different we are and different we will be,
But we are Americans; in the land of the free.
What brings us together is a heart full of love;
Remember our neighbor; words sent from Above.
If those of us older can’t bring equality now,
Let’s pray that the young will soon show us how.
God, help us to unite this disparate family;
Let us spread Love in our USA bipartisanly.
Both north and south and in all directions;
Infuse us with Love, not Pandemic Infections.
Bless our Heroes, who have cared for the ill,
And the aides and other staff of Porter Hills,
Who always feed us, and tend our every need.
We thank you with heart-filled love, indeed.
by Robert E. Carlson, 6/21/20
As we come to our nation’s Independence Day observance, I am grateful for the voices of poets and hymnwriters, of founding dreamers and visionary leaders who have inspired and continue to encourage the best of who we are and what we can be as the people of this great nation. Let us be of good courage and hope as we aspire to the best of our nation’s promise and potential.
People of Trinity, happy 4th of July! It remains a privilege to serve as one of this congregation’s pastors.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Bob Linstrom