The recent post on this blog about including national anthems in hymnals stirred up an old issue in me. I am a minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and have, for the most part, managed to restrict the mention of national holidays to the intercessory prayers. On the Sunday before Memorial Day or Independence Day, the congregations I have served continued to follow the Revised Common Lectionary; the day’s sermon and hymns grew out of the appointed texts, just as they would on any other Sunday. In the prayers, we would give thanks for those who sacrificed their lives for others, or prayed for our country to be one of justice for all people. Often we would sing “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies” or “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” out of respect for military families in the church. I was never comfortable with it, but I felt I needed to walk the fine line between upholding my own convictions about the separation of church and state and honoring those of people in the church.
I am grateful that our denominational hymnal, Glory to God (2013), does not include the national anthem of the United States. Yet even singing the words of those “compromise” hymns is becoming more difficult. Not all the people in our churches claim this nation as their home. Some are citizens of other countries who are working in this country; others claim dual citizenship. Still others are refugees or undocumented immigrants. What is it like for them to be surrounded by the sounds of their siblings in Christ singing to God about America? In an era when this country is becoming less hospitable to those who seek refuge from violence or the opportunity to make a living wage, the church must be even more attuned to the impact of these songs.
Ironically, at a time when I am becoming more convicted about this issue, I have been invited by a nearby congregation to sing for their Veterans Day service. For various reasons, I feel the need to say yes. What I plan to sing, however, is probably not what the church is expecting to hear. “This Is My Song” is an old song that is new to me. The first two verses were written between the First and Second World Wars; a third verse incorporating language from the Lord’s Prayer was added later. The hymn begins by addressing “God of all the nations” and declares that this country is where the singer’s heart and hopes and dreams reside. Then the singer continues: “but other hearts in other lands are beating with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.” The second verse begins by singing of the beauty of the singer’s homeland, then goes on to say that other lands are just as beautiful, offering “a song of peace for their land and for mine.” The hymn concludes with the prayer that “thy kingdom come; on earth thy will be done,” and that “hearts united learn to live as one.”
In a time when nationalism is growing in our country and in others—a time when isolationist politics and personal prejudices seek to divide us into separate tribes—the church does well to sing prayers for peace that acknowledge the blessedness of the other.
“This Is My Song” appears in a variety of hymnals, including Gather (3rd edition) and Gather Comprehensive (2nd edition). Stanzas 1 and 2 were written by Lloyd Stone, and stanza 3 was authored by Georgia Harkness. The hymn is set to the tune FINLANDIA, by Jean Sibelius.