God of Our Fathers

Something for the weekend. God of Our Fathers. Written in 1876 to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it reminds each American how fortunate we are to live in this land.

God of our fathers, whose almighty hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies,
Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
In this free land by Thee our lot is cast;
Be Thou our ruler, guardian, guide and stay,
Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.

From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence,
Be Thy strong arm our ever sure defense;
Thy true religion in our hearts increase,
Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.

Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way,
Lead us from night to never-ending day;
Fill all our lives with love and grace divine,
And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.

America is a wonderful place, even when we acknowledge her flaws. I think one of the best tributes to America is contained in Stephen Vincent Benet’s The Devil and Daniel Webster, when he describes Daniel Webster addressing the Jury of the Damned:

It got to Dan’l in the end, and he began to heat, like iron in the
forge. When he got up to speak he was going to flay that stranger with
every trick known to the law, and the judge and jury too. He didn’t
care if it was contempt of court or what would happen to him for it.
He didn’t care any more what happened to Jabez Stone. He just got
madder and madder, thinking of what he’d say. And yet, curiously
enough, the more he thought about it, the less he was able to arrange
his speech in his mind. Till, finally, it was time for him to get up
on his feet, and he did so, all ready to bust out with lightnings and
denunciations. But before he started he looked over the judge and jury
for a moment, such being his custom. And he noticed the glitter in
their eyes was twice as strong as before, and they all leaned forward.
Like hounds just before they get the fox, they looked, and the blue
mist of evil in the room thickened as he watched them. Then he saw
what he’d been about to do, and he wiped his forehead, as a man might
who’s just escaped falling into a pit in the dark.

For it was him they’d come for, not only Jabez Stone. He read it in
the glitter of their eyes and in the way the stranger hid his mouth
with one hand. And if he fought them with their own weapons, he’d fall
into their power; he knew that, though he couldn’t have told you how.
It was his own anger and horror that burned in their eyes; and he’d
have to wipe that out or the case was lost. He stood there for a
moment, his black eyes burning like anthracite. And then he began to
speak.

He started off in a low voice, though you could hear every word. They
say he could call on the harps of the blessed when he chose. And this
was just as simple and easy as a man could talk. But he didn’t start
out by condemning or reviling. He was talking about the things that
make a country a country, and a man a man.

And he began with the simple things that everybody’s known and
felt–the freshness of a fine morning when you’re young, and the taste of
food when you’re hungry, and the new day that’s every day when you’re
a child. He took them up and he turned them in his hands. They were
good things for any man. But without freedom, they sickened. And when
he talked of those enslaved, and the sorrows of slavery, his voice got
like a big bell. He talked of the early days of America and the men
who had made those days. It wasn’t a spread-eagle speech, but he made
you see it. He admitted all the wrong that had ever been done. But he
showed how, out of the wrong and the right, the suffering and the
starvations, something new had come. And everybody had played a part
in it, even the traitors.

Then he turned to Jabez Stone and showed him as he was–an ordinary man
who’d had hard luck and wanted to change it. And, because he’d wanted
to change it, now he was going to be punished for all eternity. And
yet there was good in Jabez Stone, and he showed that good. He was
hard and mean, in some ways, but he was a man. There was sadness in
being a man, but it was a proud thing too. And he showed what the
pride of it was till you couldn’t help feeling it. Yes, even in hell,
if a man was a man, you’d know it. And he wasn’t pleading for any one
person any more, though his voice rang like an organ. He was telling
the story and the failures and the endless journey of mankind. They
got tricked and trapped and bamboozled, but it was a great journey.
And no demon that was ever foaled could know the inwardness of it–it
took a man to do that.

The fire began to die on the hearth and the wind before morning to
blow. The light was getting gray in the room when Dan’l Webster
finished. And his words came back at the end to New Hampshire ground,
and the one spot of land that each man loves and clings to. He painted
a picture of that, and to each one of that jury he spoke of things
long forgotten. For his voice could search the heart, and that was his
gift and his strength. And to one, his voice was like the forest and
its secrecy, and to another like the sea and the storms of the sea;
and one heard the cry of his lost nation in it, and another saw a
little harmless scene he hadn’t remembered for years. But each saw
something. And when Dan’l Webster finished he didn’t know whether or
not he’d saved Jabez Stone. But he knew he’d done a miracle. For the
glitter was gone from the eyes of judge and jury, and, for the moment,
they were men again, and knew they were men.

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Published in: on November 29, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on God of Our Fathers  
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