By Rev Charles F. Harper M. Div. Spiritual Director/Counselor & CJ Walker, Spiritual Director/Counselor
Like many of us during the past 5 years , I notice our collective consciousness has slipped into a state of cynicism and skepticism about what and who we are as a country. And for those who are cynical and skeptical about what this country is and what it stands for, I would want to take them to the Statue of Liberty.
For me, The Statue of Liberty has become a precious symbol of who we are as a nation. The Statue of Liberty symbolizes the spirit of our country and the words inscribed on this statue symbolize the soul of our country.
I think there is a difference between the spirit and the soul. For me the spirit has to do with energy, the animating life force that drives us to do what we do. The soul, on the other hand, has to do with the depth of our being, and it is that which gives a sense of meaning to our lives. In this context, the spirit can be likened with the element of wind, either a gentle breeze or a powerful gale, the soul, on the other hand, has more to do with the earth with the grounded “Knowing” of who we are.
The Statue of Liberty symbolizes the spirit of our nation, our love of liberty, our love of freedom. The Bill of Rights that we so cherish is also an indication of the spirit of our country. We have freedoms that many people in the rest of the world do not enjoy and for which Ukrainians , for example, are making so many sacrifices to avoid the tyranny of autocracy and which we narrowly avoided on 1/6/21.
Now , to see the spirit of our nation, we can be quite a distance away, but to see the soul of our nation, we have to get up quite close to see those beautiful words inscribed on the base of the statue of liberty.
It is the poem by Emma Lazarus; entitled a “New Colossus”. Listen to these words:
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
with conquering limbs astride from land to land,
Here at our sea washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightening, and her name
Mother of exiles. From her beacon hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
with silent lips, “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
As I said, to me, this is the soul of our nation. With this poem, the Statue of Liberty is not only a statue of liberty but a “Statue of Hospitality.”
If we were to take out our family albums, no doubt most of us would be able to document where and when our families benefited from beautiful “Mother of Exiles” and not only the liberty but the hospitality she symbolizes. A potato famine in Ireland, religious persecution in England, drug lords in south and central America, the killing fields of Cambodia, a war in Rwanda, Somalia ,Afghanistan , Iraq, the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. The tyranny of so many dictators from south America to Africa to the middle east to Asia . Emma Lazarus, may have been a member of the literary illuminati of New York, but she was also an activist. As the Jewish woman that she was she wrote this poem, in 1883, because she herself had benefited from the open armed hospitality our country exemplified.
That is the soul of our country and it makes me very, very proud…“Send these, the homeless tempest tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
I confess to you that I have a fear. I confess that in our nation today, we are rather strong in spirit and not so strong in soul. I think of the ugliness of our leadership when it came to speaking of our brothers and sisters south of the boarder. I think way–back to the so–called “Patriot Act” and the new McCarthyism of congress raising its ugly head and which is streaming misinformation into our phones like a toxic river. I think of the mean spirit and the prejudice from which some of our Muslim brothers and sisters have suffered just because they’re Muslim. I think of the fact that our Native American brothers and sisters have for too long been exiles in their own land. Of course, I’d be remiss , in fact negligent, really, if I didn’t mention the
Leftism. rightism, racism, sexism , discrimination against language of pundits and politicians which place a premium on the “ isms” that can so divide this country. those in the LBGTQ community, and all the opther’isms” that so divide the human race and our country.
As our economy goes through its cyclical fits and starts, history tells us that we as people become even more protectionist, more afraid that those who do not look like us will take our “piece of the pie”. I see this fear escalating and manifested in the violence of streets and the tragedies of innocents shot beyond recognition.
There is a danger that the world will begin to see our Statue of Liberty as a Statue of Bigotry. And there’s an even greater danger that we will come to see it as a quaint symbol of the past.
We are the keepers of the Golden Door. And no doubt about it, while China may be close on our GNP heels, we are the colossus, we are “the big man on the block”; we are the most powerful nation the world has ever seen.
So, I would have to paint a tear drop on the eye of the mother of exiles. There would be a tear symbolizing all the children in this country who have been killed in mass shootings and in street violence; the Ukrainians who are currently heroically dying for their freedom; the suffering from starvation and malnutrition of children all over the world; , a tear for all of those suffering from a lack of medical care; a tear for all the Palestinian children huddled together in refugee camps yearning to be free; a tear for the Israeli families who have been victims of terrorist attacks, a tear for all of those suffering from tear gas and weapons of oppression; a tear for all the children of those warring tribes that are killing each other with such ferocity.
No, unlike previous generations, it probably would not be feasible to open up the door of our country to massive immigration. That’s not what I mean. But being the colossus that we are, we do have it within our power and leadership to bring the engines of peace and prosperity of the soul of our country to the far flung-flung places of the earth.
We have it within our power to raise the standard of living for the people of the earth. When others see the Statue of Liberty, I want them to think of this, not only as a symbol of our liberty but also a symbol of our compassion for compassion, as the Soul of our nation. I want the young people we teach, mentor , coach and counsel to know that this land is their land, your land, and our land and to do all they can to “lift their lamp beside the golden door!”
Note: The New Colossus” is a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus (1849–1887). She wrote the poem in 1883 to raise money for the construction of a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World). In 1903, the poem was cast onto a bronze plaque and mounted inside the pedestal’s lower level.
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Charlie is the Author of Amazing Grief, Co-Author of …not as prescribed…. and soon to be released “Dr. Junkie”, former columnist. Minister, and former spiritual director , primary care counselor for the Betty Ford Center. Harper and his Partner CJ Walker, an Acupuncturist and spiritual Director, are co-founders of the Wisdom Walkers, a website to be released in September sharing the reflections, thoughts , quotes and images of those, like you, who are and have led us to greater sense of unity , love and light. CJ and Charlie are in private practice and live in Oxnard, California.