Music Across America – Making America Beautiful Again

“Hurry, Miss Bates, we’re leaving in about an hour,” declared a soft female voice apparently coming from the opened window below.

Frantically, “Katie” Bates tried to awaken herself by quickly rubbing her sleepy eyes, stretching her arms in the cool morning air. Pulling back the curtain to glance out the window revealed only a portion of the azure Western sky. Outside her mountain villa in the direction of the voices, she could hear more chatter and the rustling of the horses harnessed to the prairie wagon that was to scale the mountain slope.

For about three weeks in the summer of 1893, Colorado College had been home for Katharine Lee Bates, prolific poet and notable college professor. Katharine, a teacher of English literature, had been contracted as a traveling lecturer from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Now she and some of her teacher friends had planned an adventure. They were about to ascend 14,000 feet to one of the highest points in the Rockies, Pikes Peak.

Katharine Lee Bates was born before the Civil War, on Aug. 12, 1859. Her father died only three weeks after she was born, of a tumor on the spine. Almost immediately her mother sought comfort and attention from Katharine. Even as a baby, her extraordinarily serene personality brought great joy, easing the pain of her mother’s widowhood.

Katharine’s keen mental powers and intellectual agility had set her apart even as a young child. Her mother, discovering her child’s gift, found great comfort in her poems. She encouraged her gifted daughter to write as early as age 9. In addition, her mother insisted that she be properly educated. Accordingly, she had become one of the first to graduate from Wellesley College, where she began teaching in 1891.

Katharine’s journey to the West had been an extraordinary experience, with a brief stop at the Chicago World’s Exposition, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Columbus’ discovery of America. She, too, was discovering America, its astounding beauty and expanse. After spending a couple of weeks below Pikes Peak, she and her friends had hired a prairie wagon and were about to ascend the mountain for the first time.

Katharine and her friends were having the adventure of a lifetime! Near the top of the mountain, they had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. By the time they had reached the top, Katharine was exhausted. As she wiped her brow with her handkerchief, all of her senses were reawakened by the beauty of the vision she beheld. Katharine was electrified by the splendor of the country she loved so. She later wrote these words about her experience:

“. . . [W]hen I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there with the sea-like expanse. It opened the lines of a hymn that floated into my mind.”

Hurriedly, Katharine grabbed her notebook and scribbled the lines—four stanzas—which became the words to “America the Beautiful.”

“America the Beautiful,” one of America’s most beloved songs, has now become our second national anthem. She had no idea that her hastily written words would attain such fame. In writing these words, Katharine Lee Bates passed on her intense love for this country, inspiring millions of Americans.

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

As 2016 approaches, our nation looms in pessimism. Seemingly, the events of 2015 have left us pulverized emotionally and confused. It seems that dark forces of evil have stripped away what is good and decent about our American story. Perhaps we are more scattered and contentious than we have been in decades. Civility and decency of character have been replaced with distorted half-truths and innuendoes aimed at destroying and dehumanizing us. Our greatest challenge may not be such things as the economy, our loss of freedom through larger government, or any other campaign promises in the election ahead, it may be the challenge of moving forward positively in such a bitter, hostile environment.

The challenge may be overwhelming, but the answer is so simple. We must choose to forgive! Nelson Mandella was asked how he emerged from all those years in prison without being bitter. His reply was simple: “Bitterness only hurts oneself. If you hate, you will only give them your heart and mind.”

Perhaps, it is time to view America’s story from a higher altitude. From the mountaintop experience, we can see a view of the beauty of this nation and get an honest perspective in order to realign ourselves with God’s plan and purpose for our lives. Naturally, we are mesmerized by the magnificence and want to stay in the splendor of the mountaintop experience. The mountain vision is raw, wild and life-giving. It clambers to teach us. The vision is brief, so as Americans and children of God, we keep this mountain vision in perspective. We must come down from the mountain, take the gift of the mountaintop experience and be ready to serve; otherwise we will stagger and become spiritually stagnant.

I’m convinced that Americans are being compelled to make the journey down from the mountain, to take the arduous path through the wilderness and into the valley. No doubt it is in the valley where the hard work will be done. It is in the valley that we will find our purpose. We simply cannot find our purpose while we hold on to grudges. God adamantly encourages us to forgive each other because the emotional, physical and spiritual consequence of not forgiving is so destructive.

Nevertheless, from the mountaintop we get a new viewpoint: forgiveness is a matter of choice. Simply stated, forgiveness does not come naturally. The focus must not be on our feelings, but on others. When we do not forgive, we forfeit our fellowship with God and each other. Only when we shift the focus from ourselves to others will we grasp the vision God has for America. So in 2016, with courage and perseverance, come down from the mountain and make a pathway to God and each other. United, we will make America beautiful again!

God, Your word if still creating,
Calling us to life anew
Now, reveal to us fresh vistas
Where there’s work to dare and do.
Keep us clear of all distortion.
Polish us with loving care.
Thus, new creatures in Your image
We’ll proclaim Christ everywhere

– From “God You Spin the Whirling Planets,” written by Jane Parker Huber, 1978


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