Monday, July 11, 2005

The Glory of the Morning on the Wave

I was browsing various old hymns today and re-read one of my very favorites, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and was struck more than usual by the following stanza:

I have read a fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;
“As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal”;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on.

In other words, the "fiery Gospel" that we find "writ in burnished rows of steel," i.e., that we learn from war, is that we must treat others as we would be treated, even when we are dealing with the 'contemners' (i.e., those who despise moral truth). Sometime last year several blogs were talking about the Unitarian Jihad Name Generator, which was inspired by an article by Jon Carroll. The generator would give a result like the following:

My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Brother Dagger of Sweet Reason.

Get yours.

It reminds me a bit of the Battle Hymn: benevolence and moderation very assertively expressed. Julia Howe, the Unitarian who wrote the lyrics, worked with her husband, the abolitionist Samuel Gridley, to better the conditions of prisoners of war in the American Civil War; and the hymn, which sounds superficially belligerent, actually expresses faith in God's progressive providence and asserts our need to participate in it by standing up for justice and truth:

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free;
While God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is honor to the brave;
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave,
Our God is marching on.


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