Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Our patchwork heritage

In his inaugural address, President Obama referred to our "patchwork heritage" as a nation, which was evocative for me on several levels--racial, cultural, religious, political, and "use whatever is at hand to fix what's broken." It seems to me an apt characterization, and a hopeful one.

I have friends who are quilters, who keep ragbags in their homes. They fill the bags with old clothes--worn out, outgrown, but with more life in them. Those castoffs become the basis of something new and beautiful as they're trimmed and stitched together. It's thrifty, it's aesthetically lovely, and it's packed with meaning to go to sleep covered by an item composed of Baby's first jumper, Dad's old work shirt, Mom's apron, Big Sister's favorite dress from 3rd grade. It's the story of a family, its warmth put to good use, sometimes handed down through generations.

Our patchwork heritage. Different textures, different colors (some dark, some light), put together in a beautiful, hard-won pattern for the sake of our common life. What a wonderful way to frame our shared story as Americans. It honors each person while reminding us that each of us is part of something larger than ourselves.

Just before the swearing-in, music demonstrated that idea. Four brilliant artists performed a new piece by John Williams which fused newly-composed music with an American Shaker song whose lyric reminds us that

'Tis a gift to be simple; 'tis a gift to be free;
'tis a gift to come down where we ought to be
and when we find ourselves in the place just right
'twill be in the valley of love and delight.

Here's the extraordinary music:

It was Rev. Lowery who really brought it home for me, though, with a pastiche of his own. His benediction brought together lyrics from three different songs of faith (at my count), several scriptural passages (loved "tanks beaten into tractors"), warmth, honesty and humor. And at the end, he invited everyone to participate with an allusion to Micah that invokes the same humility that permeated our new President's speech.

Am I a bit sentimental today? Maybe. Sue me. :-) It's been a long time since I found politics inspiring.

God bless President Obama, and God bless us, every one.


Diane said...

I loved Lowery's benediction, too.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

It has been an extraordinary day.

Processing Counselor said...

I love Simple Gifts!

FranIAm said...

The benediction was wonderful and I shouted AMEN to the TV!

Katherine E. said...

"Tis a gift to be simple"--what a remarkable thing to play at an inauguration. I loved it.

patchwork said...

This looks so colorful and united in spite of being diverse...just like the nation.