Anticipating rain, I wear my enormous rain boots out onto the Gettysburg battlefields. I won’t dread the rain or flooding today! But it doesn’t rain; it’s sunny and hot, and I find myself disappointed.
I’m actually looking for deep puddles, sloshy ruts of mud, and soupy earth I might sink my boots into.
I march across a field with impenetrable protection. There’s nothing to fear with boots like these. As I think about returning home and marching onward into any uncertain or dangerous territory, I recall God’s protection: impenetrable and so strong we find ourselves disappointed when life seems too safe to need it.
Journal: Do you worry that life seems too safe sometimes?
I’m walking on the battlefields today. I’m deeply moved by Chamberlain’s words spoken at the dedication of the Monument to the 20th Maine on October 3, 1889, Gettysburg, PA.
He says, “In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream; And lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”
Something abides. Something stays. Certain places–thin places–where the boundary between flesh and spirit disappears and we can peer into eternity, realign me to great ideals. Gettysburg does this.
We ponder and dream here.
Journal: Do you know of other places that are “vision-places” for souls?
I stand in a museum in Gettysburg. As I enter the room called, “The Gettysburg Address,” I feel more solemn than I expect. A simple room–nothing elaborate or majestic–painted in muted browns displays the words of that historic address. 10 sentences, less than 250 words. I examine Lincoln’s handwriting, noting his style. How could so few words create a cultural moment so powerful? How could this conglomeration of verbs, dashes, and words puzzled into a graveyard address change the course of history?
The document amazes me. Lincoln uses the address to challenge and inspire us to press on in our own legacy-making, our own freedom-fighting, our own responsible citizenship so those honored dead “shall not have died in vain.” It’s a speech so deeply embedded in the past (four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent), but so simultaneously lodged in a future Lincoln could not yet see (that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom). That double vision is what the study of history so often offers.
As I turn from the wall displaying the text of the Gettysburg Address, I face an opposing wall of quotations others have made at the time of Lincoln’s speech. It’s difficult to see with this cell phone photo, but these quotes refer to the short speech as a bunch of “silly remarks.” One newspaper says that “every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat. . . remarks.” Another comment claims that Lincoln’s remarks will “no more be repeated or thought of” in American history.
I take a picture. I laugh at the irony. There will always be haters. There will always be opposition to the good, the noble, and the true. Perhaps the amount of criticism directly correlates to how good, noble, and true a thing is.
Living with flair means we move on in our legacy-making and our freedom-fighting despite opposition. What others claim is “dull and commonplace” just might change a nation’s history.