4 minute read

Reflections of a Song

(A Stirring Story Behind ‘America the Beautiful’ – Beth Cooney, Stamford Advocate, November 9, 2001)


O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain! America! America! God shed his grace on thee And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!

Reflections of a Song by Randi McNiel

America the Beautiful By Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929) Music by Samuel Augustus Howe (1847-1903)

It was the summer of 1893 when Katherine Lee Bates, professor of English literature at Wellesley College, headed west to teach a summer course at Colorado College. She was 33 – “The trip was a big deal. An adventure. For a young, single woman, it was a fairly mammoth undertaking.”

She was stirred by the “amber waves of grain” she saw from a train in Kansas wheat fields. Later, on a faculty trip to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado, she saw what she later described as the “purple mountains majesty.”

“We hired a prairie wagon pulled by horses up to the half-way house, where we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. Two of our party became so faint in the rarified air that we were bundled into the wagons again and started on our downward plunge. It was then and there, as I was looking out over the sealike expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the poem floated into my mind.”

Faith On Every Corner

The inspiration of Katharine Lee Bates caused me to reflect on the other verses of this amazing poem that was eventually put to music. My thoughts on the second verse brought my mind back to the early pioneers who took a chance on making a better life for themselves and future generations. Pictures of covered wagons traveling across the country gave me pause: how dusty and dirty the trip must have been as they traveled over rugged terrain, tossing treasured family heirlooms when the wagons became too heavy to cross rushing rivers. Tempers probably flared at times, and fear for their safety and that of their children must have been overwhelming. Was their fear greater than their trust in God to bring them to their new land? I imagine there was a wave of emotions as they tried to rein in their fear and trust in the Almighty.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet Whose stern impassioned stress A thoroughfare of freedom beat Across the wilderness! America! America! God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law!

The freedom we enjoy in this nation didn’t just fall into our laps. It came at a price. A very great price for some. When I think back over the years when we’ve sent soldiers into war, some of them right out of high school, my heart aches – for mothers who shed many tears for their sons, and for the young men and women who fought for this nation without fully understanding why. Many of them didn’t come home. Those who did were changed with



a new sense of honor, more virtuous, more noble. They are the heroes, those who fought for our liberty, and who would do it again because of their love of country.

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife. Who more than self their country loved And mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine Till all success be nobleness And every gain divine!

We celebrate Independence Day with fireworks and family picnics. You see patriotism all around as we wave our flag, sing the songs, and hear the marches of John Philip Sousa. But in the stillness of night as you gaze at city lights and give thought to the sacrifices that brought us here, you can’t help but shed a tear. God has showered us with grace – and for this moment we see the brotherhood of man, neighbor helping neighbor, celebrations of how far we’ve come. But we mustn’t take it for granted – it can slip through our fingers the moment we forget the God of our fathers. Let us not forget what shaped this nation. Let us continue to forge a path toward peace and unity. For we are one nation under God.

O beautiful for patriot dream That sees beyond the years Thine alabaster cities gleam Undimmed by human tears! America! America! God shed his grace on thee And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!

“If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14


Faith On Every Corner

Meet Randi McNeil

Randi will be joining us with a monthly column Reflections of a Song

Randi McNiel is a wife, mother of two grown daughters, grandmother of 6, and a woman of strong faith and courage. She was raised in a Christian home, the granddaughter of a Lutheran pastor, and grew up surrounded by music. She has sung in church choirs since the age of 8 and directed children’s choirs for over 20 years. Most recently she sang with her 120-voice church choir, which is where she met her second husband, Bob. But less than 3 years into their marriage Bob showed signs of dementia and was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Randi works during the day at their county department of education, and cares for her husband at night and on weekends. She draws on the strength of God to get her through each day.

Randi is a Toastmaster who began writing when preparing speeches. She has written many poems over the years and finds writing fills her need to do something beyond care giving. She admits that she hasn’t mastered the art of creating images with her words as she’d like, but she’s working on it. Most of all she wants to be known as someone who radiates the love of Christ Jesus in every area of her life.