A Vespers for these times…Thoughts on Memorial Day

May 25,2020

Sing:

Hark the Vesper bell is pealing, o’er the meadow soft and green.

Nearer now and nearer stealing,

Soft it breaks upon my ear.

Jubilate, jubilate, jubilate, Amen. Jubilate, jubilate, jubilate, Amen.

First Words:  Memorial Day, 2020.  It’s a glorious day here at camp.  Every plant that blossoms has done that elegantly!  Pleasant floral perfumes infuse the air. 

The lady slippers on Steve’s path suggest that fairy folk might be afoot in the wee morning hours.  And down at the pond, there’s a frog chorus that’s so loud that Rosa was compelled to bark at the sound.  It is a good day to sit in the peace of the early summer to think about the sacrifices many Americans and others around the world have made in the various wars over the history of our species.  It’s important to include in our meditations not only the sacrifices, but also the countless tragedies that warfare causes, tragedies across all species in the world.  This Vespers celebrates courage, sacrifice, tragedy and….peace.

Sing:  “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” by Pete Seeger

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?

Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?

Where have all the flowers gone, young girls picked them every one.

When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?


Where have all the young girls gone, long time passing?

Where have all the young girls gone, long time ago?

Where have all the young girls gone, gone to young men every one.

When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?


Where have all the young men gone, long time passing?

Where have all the young men gone, long time ago?

Where have all the young men gone, gone to soldiers every one.

When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?


Where have all the young men gone, long time passing?

Where have all the young men gone, long time ago?

Where have all the young men gone, gone to graveyards every one.

When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?


Where have all the graveyards gone, long time passing?

Where have all the graveyards gone, long time ago?

Where have all the graveyards gone, gone to flowers every one.

When will they ever learn?

When will they ever learn?

 

Thoughts: Memorial Day 2020 will be remarkable among the many Memorial Days that preceded it.  Across America, on most Memorial days, kids would wind red, white and blue crepe paper streamers through their bike spokes in preparation for the annual town parade and picnic.  Boy and Girl Scouts would don their uniforms and line up in fine formation.  Those women and men who served in the various wars in which our country participated would be polishing the antique cars in which they would ride as celebrated citizens. 

And yes.. the high school band would be tuning up in the mall parking lot where the assembled groups would arrange themselves for the march through town.  

Town citizens not in the parade would line the streets to applaud those marching before them.  There would be flags, ice cream cones, t-shirts with patriotic messages.  All in the spirit of honoring those who gave their lives and their service to preserve the values reflected in our country’s systems.  

This year will be different.  Parades are cancelled.  Towns are quiet.  Picnics are smaller with creative arrangements of chairs and foods.  The differences leave time to think more deeply, perhaps about this national holiday.

Did you know that the roots of Memorial Day go way back to the end of the American Civil War.  In 1865 our nation had returned to being one nation rather than two.  The cost of clarifying that we would remain one country was horrific.  Between 600,000 and 800,000 soldiers gave their lives sorting out the answer to the question.  Countless civilians lost their lives and damage to the land, towns and cities was devastating.

The first Memorial Days were called “Decoration Days” in recognition of the ritual people developed of placing wreaths of flowers on the gravestones of relatives who had sacrificed their lives in the conflict. Decoration Day was a spring holiday, of course, so that flowers would be blooming for easy gathering.  

If you dig deeper into the history of Memorial Day, you might find, though it takes some digging, that the very first Memorial Day gathering took place less than a month after the end of the Civil War.  It happened in Charleston, South Carolina.  Towards the end of the war, Confederate forces had turned a fancy race track into a prison for Union captives.  Prisoners were kept captive on the race track grounds, outside, in all weather.  Over 260 Union prisoners of war died there and were buried in haste in a mass grave.  

When the war ended, the city of Charleston was nearly destroyed.  Most white citizens had evacuated the city.  Most Charleston citizens remaining were freed black slaves.  A few hundred of these newly free American citizens came together to honor the lives and the sacrifices of the Union soldiers who had died in the camp.  They dug up the mass grave and honored each soldier with an individual grave and ritual.  The first Memorial Day.  The story doesn’t often get told, but should be known!  A month later, the first Memorial Day parade took place at the race track, this time it included 10,000 freed new Americans, a few white missionaries, a band and other trappings of the holiday we all know now.  

Three years later, the first national Memorial Day was held.  In that year the first national cemeteries were designated.  Some of you may have visited one of the first, Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C..  In 1971, many years after the Civil War, Memorial Day was designated a national holiday, to be held annually on the last Monday in May.  That would take us to the kinds of celebrations we’ve enjoyed since then.  

It is important to know, given these times, that there are a few states in our country that celebrate Confederate Memorial Day.  Some citizens in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina have selected a spring day to honor the Confederacy.  Of course there are Americans in all states who may still hold to the ideas that were held by leaders in the Confederacy all those years ago.  None of us can afford to rest easy about the impact of racial attitudes still present across our country.  

Every Memorial Day, at 3:00 in the afternoon, where ever you are at 3:00, there is a national moment of remembrance.  I wish we were all at camp where a bell could be rung, gathering us all together to think about this annual day of remembrance, about war, and about how to secure peace for all.  May you take time for just that in your Memorial Day rituals.

Sing: “Ain’t a Gonna Study War No More. ” Traditional black spiritual

Gonna lay down my sword and shield

Down by the riverside, down by the riverside, down by the riverside.

Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside.


Chorus: I ain’t a gonna study war no more, ain’t a gonna study war no more,

Study war no more.  I ain’t a gonna study war no more, ain’t a gonna study war no more. 

Study war. No more.


Gonna put on that long white robe, down by the riverside.

Down by the riverside, down by the riverside.

Gonna put on that long white robe, down by the riverside.


Chorus


Gonna walk with the Prince of Peace, down by the riverside.

Down by the riverside, down by the riverside.

Gonna walk with the Prince of Peace, down by the riverside.

Down by the riverside.


Chorus.

Story: A good camp friend left us a book called THE HUMAN SPIRIT, by Kobi Yamada.  In this book, Kobi Yamada describes characteristics of the human spirit that, should we work on developing them, would bring our world closer to peace.  The book is a collection of quotes he compiled that help us understand each characteristic.  You’ll have fun thinking about your own character and these ideas!  Here’s what Kobi Yamada writes in the preface to his book:

“Here’s to those who press on regardless.  The pioneers.  The leaders. The survivors.  The big-thinkers.  The innovators.  The action-takers.  The peacemakers.  The adventurers.  The movers.  The shakers.  They’re the embodiment of the human spirit….Every day the human spirit influences and reshapes our world.  It makes new discoveries, gives hope and redefines what’s possible.  It inspires us to do and be more.  Look around and celebrate it. “

Here are a few of the quotes he gathered for this inspiring book.  For each quote, he chooses a characteristic that the quote clarifies:

FLY…..”When a great adventure is offered, you don’t refuse it.”     -Amelia Earhart

VISION…If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders.  Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.  -Antoine De Saint Exupery

DREAM….”Things are only impossible until they’re not.”    -Jen-Luc Picard

PURPOSE…”The happiest excitement in life is to be convinced that one is fighting for all one is worth on behalf of some clearly seen and deeply felt good.”    -Ruth Benedict

PIONEER…”Orville Wright didn’t have a pilot’s license.”   -unknown

PERSEVERANCE…”Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”   -Babe Ruth

FLOW…”Like water, be gentle and strong.  Be gentle enough to follow the natural paths of the earth, and strong enough to rise up and reshape the world.”  -Brenda Paterson

 

BACKBONE…”Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”-Martin Luther King

HEART….”Ask yourself ‘how long am I going to work to make my dreams come true?’  I suggest you answer,

‘As long as it takes’.”    -Jim Rohn

JOY…”Let us go singing as far as we go.”    -Virgil

Perhaps you will find or borrow this book to see the rest of the characteristics Kobi Yamada highlights!  They are worth pondering!

Sing: Finlandia” a hymn about peace in the world.

This is my song, oh God of all the nations.

A song of peace, for lands afar and mine..

This is my home, the country where my heart is.

Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.

But other hearts in other lands are beating.

With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.


My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean.

And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.

But other lands have sunlight too and clover.

And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

Oh, hear my song, thou God of all the nations.

A song of peace, for their land and for mine.

Last Words:On this Memorial Day, we honor those who served and suffered in conflicts around the world.  They fought for values that they believed in and were willing to die for.  As this Memorial Day becomes history, may there be many days ahead where we all struggle for the value of peace while acknowledging the challenges that will certainly  lie ahead.

If Peace is by Stephanie Carter

If peace is a candle, I’ll light one each night.

If peace is a hand, I’ll hold on so tight.

If peace is a bell, I’ll make it ring.

If peace is a song, I’ll want to sing.

If peace is a gift, I’ll open it with care.

If peace is a treasure, I’ll search every where.

If peace is a garden, I’ll tend every seed.

If peace is a book, I’ll have to read.

But peace is more than all of these things, more than a book or a bell that rings.

It’s more than the work of just one or two.

Peace is the work that we all must do.

Peace is a promise we make one another….

To love and protect, and to care for each other….

A kind word and deed, any time, any place.

Peace is a promise—it’s something we do.

For peace is a promise, kept always by you!


Silence

Jubilate, Jubilate, jubilate, Amen. Jubilate, Jubilate, Jubilate, Amen.

 

 

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