In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls…generations that know us not, and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! The shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the powers of the vision pass into their souls.”
(Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at the 1887 dedication of a monument on Little Round Top on the battlefield at Gettysburg)
Next Tuesday, November 19, marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal….
I went on pilgrimage to Gettysburg with my husband on All Saints Day a few weeks ago. We walked quietly, listened to the stories our guide told and prayed for unknown soldiers buried there. Amidst the incredible waste that war represents, I paused to give thanks for those lives that have been sacrificed in all wars. I prayed for the parents who never knew what became of their sons or how their children might have suffered at the end. And yet I still gave thanks for that suffering because these lives were given up for a great cause – freedom for all people. A brilliant short film at the Visitors Center made a direct connection between a war to free slaves and the many crusades for freedom in the 20th century – women’s suffrage through the Civil Rights movements of the past 60 years. I continued with a prayer for humankind to find another way besides slaughter to bring about freedom for the oppressed, even as I acknowledge that the foundation of our faith is built on sacrifice.
I am humbled. And music once again speaks where words fail.