I’m still reeling, to be honest, from A Week That Was, especially Friday, June 26. I can’t help feeling that the United States at last sat itself down at the same table as other progressive nations when the Supreme Court ruled, in a divided but decisive opinion, for marriage equality. In the same week, many people in this country were reeling from a horrific terrorist act – the murder of nine African-American members of a church in Charleston, South Carolina. I was driving home on I-5 Friday and heard the last part of President Obama’s eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was not only a pastor of that church, but a state senator — someone who had dedicated his life to serving others. In retrospect, all of these people seem remarkable, their lives thrown into scrutiny and stark relief by their deaths. It just tells you, I think, how remarkable many people are when you look below the surface. We need to be looking at those around us now and not only when they are dead.
The President spoke eloquently and then to my stunned surprise he began to sing Amazing Grace, in a voice that was heartfelt and not completely in tune. My sense is that this was spontaneous. I don’t think it was in the order of service or that the congregation was expecting it, though they soon joined in. I was listening to this live on the radio as I drove, singing along with the President and that stricken congregation and community, and trying unsuccessfully not to cry. For me, it was a transcendent moment. Those healing words are apt after centuries, and incredibly moving.
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
Behind these stirring and hopeful words from 1779, as many people know, is the story of a man who had the scales fall from his eyes — who had been the captain of a slave ship, became a Christian, an ordained minister, and an abolitionist. I believe some folks have finally had their eyes opened by this hideous event, to the extent that they can now see it is an injurious travesty to fly the Confederate flag over a government building. The original title of Amazing Grace was Faith’s Review and Expectation.
I’m hoping my eyes, too, are more open than they were, that I can become more aware to all the privilege that has been bestowed on me by an accident of birth. There is no beginning and no end. This is part of the fabric of our nation, part of being human in the Twenty First Century. If we don’t do one other thing, we can examine our assumptions, and we can pay attention.
Allow me to leave you, dear reader, with a little quiet beauty.