Since the Black Goo incident a few weeks back, we’ve stripped our den, repainted and will have the floors installed this week. All of this involves pulling one million books off the shelves, dusting, and sorting them. In a collection of hymnals and gospel songbooks accumulated over the years, I found a Song and Service Book for Ship and Field. Probably purchased at a garage or estate sale, the inscription inside reads “Neal T. Hart , given to me by Sergeant Menlo on January 6, 1944.” Of course, the year ahead turned out to be the final year of World War II, and would hold huge conflicts all over the globe.
In doing a little research, I found the location where Mr. Hart enlisted, his service number, and even learned he was a semi-skilled craftsman in furniture production on his enlistment. But I find no record of his death on any military or civilian records. I suppose he could still be alive, but since he was born in 1911, that would put him at 101 years old. It’d be great to get this book to one of his descendents.
To the point, on the inside cover of the book I found a prayer derived from George Washington's “Circular Letter of Farewell to the Army” written in Newburgh on June 8, 1783 (includes the creative spellings of that time and was later copied and distributed to governors of each state):
“I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.”
I love that Washington references Micah 6:8 with the phrase “do justice, to love mercy…”
And the words “…without an humble imitation of whose example…” might refer to Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
We often think of the word imitation in a negative way, as merely a facsimile of the original. But the word in Ephesians here, “imitator,” means in the original Greek, “follower.”
Perhaps the one who’d led a revolution a few years before with soldiers whose bare feet left bloody prints in the snow at Valley Forge knew much about justice, mercy, charity, humility, and a peace wrought of sacrifice and service.
I wonder if the first owner of my little military hymnal, Mr. Hart, might have known something about sacrifice and service as well, having served our country in a time of worldwide conflict.
As we celebrate our nation’s birth, let us remember these words from the man called the Father of our Country and commit ourselves afresh to be a“humble imitation," a follower, ” of the “Divine author of our blessed religion.”