The American Dream

“O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!”

This weekend, in honor of Independence Day, we will surely hear many renditions of “America the Beautiful.” I am glad because it is my favorite patriotic song. I like it for many reasons–it is easy to sing, it captures the breath-taking view from Pikes Peak and because it is not about the past as much as it is about the future to be.
pikes peak Katherine Lee Bates first published her poem, “Pike’s Peak” in the Fourth of July edition of “The Congregationalist” in 1895. She had set the words to paper in Colorado Springs after a trip to the top of the famous mountain that is the majestic backdrop to that city. The poem references the sites she had seen when as a 33-year-old English teacher she had traveled across country by train to teach a summer course at Colorado College. The “alabaster cities glean” is a reference to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and she viewed the “amber waves of grain” while traveling through Kansas.

Bates’ vivid imagery captures the vistas of our country and her poetry depicts the continual effort to create a country that may be as beautiful in its practices as is its land. “America the Beautiful” is, at its core, a prayer for the future. “God shed his grace on thee,” God mend thy every flaw,” and ” May God thy gold refine, Till all success be nobleness, And every gain divine!” are all cries for God to help us to continue forging the American dream.

On the fourth of July I give thanks for the values that under-gird our country and pray for their eventual fulfillment. We are always a work in progress. We look back today with incredulily at the audacity to say “all men are created equal,” when most of the population, slaves and women in particular, did not have full rights in the new country. But the values ensconced in the constitution and bill of rights lead the nation to strive toward that ideal. We still have more to do to be the land of the free from sea to shining sea.

Independence Day is not about what we have been, but what we may still become. I hope that you enjoy a fun and safe fourth of July weekend.


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