Jan White

July the Fourth marks the 244th anniversary of our republic. This year, it’s been heartbreaking to witness what’s happening in our country. We experienced a dangerous virus and destructive violence. I’ve decided it’s better for me to pray for our country than watch the news reports day after day.

One of my prayers comes from the words of a familiar patriotic song, “America, America, God shed his grace on thee.” When I pray for our country, the simple message of those words comes to mind often, as well as Scriptures such as 2 Chronicles 7:14.

The lyrics of the song, titled “America, the Beautiful,” came from a poem written by 33-year-old Katherine Bates, an English professor from Wellesley College. She was first inspired to write a patriotic poem in 1892, when our country marked the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America.

The next year Katherine accepted a summer teaching position in Colorado. During her travels out West, she visited the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, celebrating Columbus’ arrival in 1492. To her, the magnificent buildings constructed for this World Fair looked like alabaster.

After completing her summer teaching in Colorado, she and some other teachers trekked up to the top of 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. Katherine described the view, penciling it in her notebook, “It was then and there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading so far under those ample skies that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind.”

Bates acknowledged America was not a perfect nation when she penned, “America, America, God mend thine every flaw.” She saluted sacrifices of men and women she called heroes, “Who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life.”

She penned four verses, each stanza concluding with the prayer, “America, America, God shed his grace on thee.” In this hymn and her other writings, Katherine would stress, “We must match the greatness of our country with the goodness of personal godly living.” Her statement reminds me of Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”

The writer and teacher often spoke of the two stones that played such important roles in our nation’s history - the tablets containing the Ten Commandments and Plymouth Rock. She said, “If only we could couple the daring of the Pilgrims with the moral teachings of Moses, we would have something in this country that no one could ever take from us.”

Katherine Bates sent her poem to a publisher in Boston. It was first printed in a weekly newspaper called The Congregationalist on July 4, 1895. The tune was written by Samuel Augustus Ward, a church organist and choirmaster.

“America, the Beautiful” has been recorded by talented singers such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Mariah Carey, The Oak Ridge Boys, Kenny Rogers, Keith Urban, Aretha Franklin and Willie Nelson. But the most popular rendition was sung by Ray Charles.

Some people describe the song as our National Hymn. The words remind us of America’s beauty and greatness, but it also gives us a challenge, “America, America, May God thy gold refine, Till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine.” God has shed His grace on America, but let’s pray He will give us even more grace today and in the years ahead.

Jan White is a wife, mother, and freelance writer who lives in Andalusia. Her email address is jwhite@andycable.com.

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