America the Beautiful

The next patriotic hymn I’d like to share is America the Beautiful, lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates. Bates was born as one of four children of Congregational minister, William Bates, and his wife Cornelia Frances Lee (an educator). Katherine’s father died when she was a child, but her mother instilled in her the value of education.  She graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, among the first institutions to provide education for women. It is there that she would receive her education, progress to teach English, and eventually rise to become the head of the English Department.

Katherine Lee Bates is best known for her poem, America the Beautiful which was first published in an issue of The Congregationalist in 1895. Among her many poems about her travels and teaching at different locations, America the Beautiful recounts her visit to Colorado’s Pike’s Peak and the breathtaking view of majestic beauty she wanted to capture in words.

Over the next decade or two, she worked to perfect the poem and it was set to a few different melodies. In 1926, a contest was held to create new music for the poem, but the hymn Materna by Samuel A. Ward had already secured the mantle of official tune which is still used today.

For a short period of time after Bates’ death, an effort was made to have this hymn as the national anthem of the United States, but the Star-Spangled Banner prevailed.

Yet, this hymn has the heart of the American people, recognizing God’s creative hand of blessing. 

It stands apart as a tribute to what is beautiful in America–both the natural and the spiritual: the skies, the prairies, the mountains, the goodness, the brotherhood, the shining seas, the pilgrims, the freedom, the wilderness, the submission to God for mending our national flaws, the soul of a nation under self-control with fullness of liberty, the heroes, the sacrifice, the nobleness, the trust in God, the patriot dream of a place that is beyond this world to which America–as its free and best Constitutional self–truly points.  Or at least, it did…

Enjoy this version by The Hillsdale College Choir while reading through Bates’ poem (original in this link, as it is typically recorded in our hymnals, below).  This video brought me to tears, why exactly I can’t explain, only that it captured somehow my love for this country, my gratitude to God for it, and my desire to honor my God by appreciating all the beauty He sees and He gives from the farthest reaches of nature to the inner space of the Christian soul.

O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain! America! America! God shed His grace on thee, And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!

America the BeautifulO beautiful for pilgrim feet, Whose stern impassion’d stress A thoroughfare for freedom beat Across the wilderness! America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife, Who more than self their country loved, And mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine Till all success be nobleness, And ev’ry gain divine!

O Beautiful for patriot dream That sees beyond the years Thine alabaster cities gleam,  Undimmed by human tears! America! America! God shed His grace on thee, And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!

Categories Articles and Devotionals, Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on July 26, 2016

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