I woke myself last night with the sound of my own crying. What began with long deep sobs, became a constant flow of tears. The overwhelming feeling of frustration and despair shuddered through my entire being, and aftershocks yet bring me to my knees. All of this has happened because I read some great words, written long ago, and I listened to them in my heart, my mind, and my soul.
We now live in a world that is always “on.” The “off” switches still exist, but are becoming dusty and rusted from lack of use. Instead of turning everything off, we simply “tune out” what we do not want to hear, and because of it, we are losing our capacity to think, to ponder, to consider opposing viewpoints, even our own voice – our conscience, perhaps, and most of all we are deaf to the “still, small voice” of God.
Hubs and I attended a concert Sunday evening by a distinguished group of eight young singer/musicians called “The Junaluska Singers.”
This annual 4th of July concert was, this year, all about American music, with its multi-national roots, and covered a broad range of our history, from the Revolution to the present. A good portion of the concert was devoted to songs that were sung around the time of the American “Civil War.” (I’ve always rather disliked the use of that adjective with the word “war.”) Throughout the songs of both the Revolutionary period and the Civil War, there were projected onto the screens on each side of the stage, a number of written quotations from distinguished persons in our history :
“But we had with us, to keep and to care for, more than five hundred bruised bodies of men, – men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man, and must we say in the name of God? And where is the reckoning for such things? And who is answerable? One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched into the palpitating air, words of order – do we call it? – fraught with such ruin. Was it God’s command we heard, or His forgiveness we must forever implore?”
— Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, U.S.A.
“With all my devotion to the Union, and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relative, my children, my home. I have, therefore, resigned my commission in the Army…”
— Robert E. Lee to his sister, Anne Marshall April 20, 1861
“Abandon your animosities and make your sons Americans.”
— Robert E. Lee, 1865
“July 3, 1863. …We built fires all over the battle field and the dead of the blue and gray were being buried all night, and the wounded carried to the hospital. We made no distinction between our own and the confederate wounded, but treated them both alike, and although we had been engaged in fierce and deadly combat all day and weary and all begrimed with smoke and powder and dust,
many of us went around among the wounded and gave cooling water or hot coffee to drink…”
— Corporal Horatio D. Chapman, U.S.A.
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
— Abraham Lincoln, from First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861
I left the concert thinking about a number of things, but most particularly, in this day and age, do we ever stop to listen and respond to those “better angels of our nature”? Would the same voices that spoke and/or wrote these and many other words of witness and wisdom down through our history, if they were spoken or written today, would they be heard or read? Or would it all be condensed to a crawler at the bottom of our TV screens, or chopped into sound bites (rather like I just did in extracting these quotations), and spewed out of the mouths of opinionated but ill-informed ignorant “talking heads” who wantonly take words out of their context and twist them to support their own points of view? Would it be recorded and relegated to an obscure Wikipedia article, or other web site? Would it be totally lost or drowned out by the latest “news” about some celebrity drug-use or incarceration, or some Representative’s penis? In the mish-mosh of trash (with occasional treasure, but who’s to know?) out on the airwaves and printed on-line and in the print media, everything is lumped together as “news,” and even more horrifying, all of it as “must-have information.”
While I believe that it often takes history to confirm or deny the lasting wisdom of a statement or idea, I am very concerned that we are far too easily distracted by the static. We are tuning out, refusing to read or listen to the thoughts, ideas, opinions, and words of the majority of our great thinkers today – whether we agree with them or not. We are tuning them out committing the sin to which I confessed, we are too busy forming our own ill-considered thoughts and opinions to listen to the wisdom of others more informed than we. We are losing the ability to discern what is right or wrong (for ourselves), and more and more we seem to be insisting upon being spoon-fed the pap of the endless chatter of inconsequence; what my mother used to refer to as “shared ignorance.” And so I wept. And so I weep. What am I missing amid all the noise? Have I been listening? Have you?
Listening requires our concentration and focus, and it means we must also think, and try to identify the trash from the treasure. Above all, it requires that we be still; that we be quiet; that we be patient – thoughtfully discerning each for ourselves what we know or find to be truth. I believe there are many words and voices of wisdom yet being written and spoken today. I believe it is time to turn off the noise of conflict and confusion and angry rhetoric, so that we all might stop and listen, so to hear from the “better angels” of all our natures.
Because, my friends, truth be told, will truth be told?
I wish you all, my Gentle Readers, enough. . .