As July 4th nears, we have another opportunity to remember the impossible feat the starving Revolutionary Army accomplished under General Washington over two hundred years ago. Few ballads remind me of what they fought for better than “America the Beautiful”. And no rendition of “America the Beautiful” sends chills up my spine more than when Ray Charles sings it. He doesn’t just sing the words; he prays them.
So what do the words mean? Here is my interpretation.
“O beautiful for spacious skies for amber waves of grain…” In Chinese, “America” is two words, not one. The first means “country”, the second means “beautiful”. So even the Chinese admit the United States of America is a “beautiful country”.
“Spacious skies” are unfettered skies, blue and brilliant. Ask a Texan. He’ll talk for hours about “big sky” country. It lifts his heart. It lifts ours too.
“Amber waves of grain” could never happen if we didn’t have farmers willing to take the risk of weather and unpredictable prices to grow grain for the whole world. We have a good life in these United States because of them. Unlike countries that have sparse or rocky farmland, our rich, fertile soil is expansive and has sustained us well for over ten generations.
“For purple mountains majesties …” all you have to do is stare at those rugged Rocky Mountains in Colorado and you’ll remember that true majesty on earth is not man-made.
“…..above the fruited plain…” Abraham Lincoln said: “We find ourselves in the peaceful possession of the fairest portion of the Earth,…as regards fertility of soil, extent of territory, and salubrity of climate:. We find ourselves the legal inheritors of these…”. This is an inheritance to hold very dear.
“America, America, God shed His grace on thee…” we didn’t earn these great gifts; they were given to us by our forbearers and their Creator. There have been many deep scars along the way but let us not forget who made the mountains, plains, streams, rivers and oceans. When our seed matures into a full harvest, let’s not forget who causes the growth. Grace means “unmerited favor”. Grace is a gift. We have that in abundance.
“And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.” to crown is to honor, respect and to hold in highest esteem. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech laid the gauntlet at our feet. He dreamt of the day when a man would be judged “not by the color of his skin but the content of his character”.
A civil society chooses character, not money or power as the screen for whom to honor. Good, honorable, righteous people who love their neighbors as themselves can be found in every town, county and city in this great nation.
Goodness is color blind. It is an important part of our heritage. It enables us to look at one another from the inside out. It is goodness on which true brotherhood is based from the roaring Atlantic Ocean on the east to the glorious Pacific Ocean to the west.
All are invited to this brotherhood of the good. We have a choice to join the fraternity and to teach our children that embracing good and rejecting evil is what protects their future.
When I see Ray Charles sing, I don’t see male or female, black or white, Greek or Jew, slave or free. I see a musical genius. I see a native son who recorded this amazing anthem as a gift for the ages. “America the Beautiful” indeed. Thank you, Mr. Charles.
America The Beautiful- Ray Charles