Reading and Reflecting on Our Country’s Heritage

I love being a writer, a crafter of words, a communicator of thoughts and ideas; but long before I ever became a writer, I was a reader, one who pored over words on a page. I learned to read at an early age, mainly because of the example and the help of my mother who was (and still is) an avid reader.

On sweltering summer days, my mother, my younger sister, and I, each carrying our load of treasured books, walked miles from our house in rural north Georgia to the “main road” (the nearest paved highway) in order to meet the bookmobile. I spent entire afternoons sitting in an overstuffed chair, my feet and legs draped over one of its arms, turning page after wonderful page in beloved books such as those in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. As I read, I felt as if I were “there” with the characters. I went through blizzards with them. I watched as grasshoppers devoured their crops. I listened as Laura’s father played his fiddle at night. I bounced across the prairie with them in their covered wagon.

To this day, I remain an eager reader. I like discovering what others think and feel. I appreciate people who share their thoughts with me, for their words inspire and instruct me, helping me become wiser and more insightful.

A few years ago as we, the citizens of the United States, were preparing to celebrate another year of our country’s independence, I came across some words that were not a quick read, as much of my earlier reading had been. The words which came from three influential men forced me to stop and reflect for a very long time. I share those thoughts with you, trusting that you, too, will read them slowly in order to absorb their profound meaning and that you will make a proper response to them.

Samuel Adams, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, said, “May every citizen in the army and in the country have a proper sense of Deity upon his mind and an impression of the declaration recorded in the Bible, ‘Him that honoreth Me, I will honor, but he that despiseth Me shall be lightly esteemed.'” (I Samuel 2:20).

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, said, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

After reading the words of Adams and Jefferson, I wondered, What would life be like today if every citizen had that “proper sense of Deity upon his mind” and if each of us so understood the absolute necessity of “honoring God” that we made it the practice of our lives? What would life be like today if each of us recognized that God is the One who gives us our lives and our liberties? What would life be like today if we realized that to violate either of those precious gifts (life and liberty) is to bring His wrath upon us?

While proclaiming a National Fast Day, Abraham Lincoln said, “We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our heart, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

The words spoken by Lincoln on March 30, 1863, are both timely and timeless. They are as descriptive and prescriptive today as they were then. As a humble writer, I feel I can add nothing of substance to such profound words other than an”Amen.”
(c)2003 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill
BIO

Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill has written a weekly inspirational newspaper column since 1984. Currently, she writes for three newspapers in Georgia. She is the author of one book, a contributor to three others, and is a published poet and photographer, as well. Her work has appeared on various websites and in print media. In addition to writing and photography, she enjoys painting with watercolors, reading, taking daily walks, traveling with her husband, and spoiling their three grandchildren. She welcomes visitors to her personal website ( http://eThomaston.net/johnnie ) and to ( http://community.webshots.com/user/author02 )

From Our Archives: July 1, 2011

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Freedom’s Price
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