Mid Week Faith Lift
May 28, 2014
“We Remember….a Memorial Day Observance”
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
Memorial Day is another state initiated civil holiday, a day of honoring those who died in battle and it originated out of the Civil War, not unlike Mother’s Day. There are many stories in which a variety of states and groups claim to have initiated “Decoration Day” as it was originally called. This is one of the stories I found on Wikipedia:
The first widely publicized observance of a Memorial Day-type observance after the Civil War was in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865. During the war, Union soldiers who were prisoners of war had been held at the Charleston Race Course; at least 257 Union prisoners died there and were hastily buried in unmarked graves. Together with teachers and missionaries, black residents of Charleston organized a May Day ceremony in 1865, which was covered by the New York Tribune and other national papers. The freedmen cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled, “Martyrs of the Race Course.” Nearly ten thousand people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the war dead. Involved were about 3,000 school children newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools, mutual aid societies, Union troops, black ministers, and white northern missionaries. Most brought flowers to lay on the burial field. Today the site is used as Hampton Park. Years later, the celebration would come to be called the “First Decoration Day” in the North.
David W. Blight described the day:
“This was the first Memorial Day. African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet, and their songs what the war had been about. What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.”
I personally found this story to be the most poignant as it spoke to my heart about what freedom meant to the living freedmen after the Civil War. It also speaks to the evolution of consciousness that this chapter of our history represented and what it took to move the nation forward in consciousness. It has taken another hundred years or so for our nation to truly live into this new consciousness of freedom for all.
So what about this business of remembering? What kind of process is it? In reality it is a human process, not a spiritual process. Those freedman who honored the Union soldiers were celebrating a point in history that marked a significant turning point in the evolution of consciousness of our nation, that acknowledged finally that all men are created equal. It would take another 100 years and the women’s movement to reflect yet another turn on the evolutionary spiral—that all women are also in that equation of “created equal” and free. As I worked on the talk this week, it occurred to me that when Charles and Myrtle Fillmore began the journey that started Unity in 1889, women did not yet have the right to vote or own property in their own name. There were legal and civil limits on Myrtle’s freedoms, but clearly there were not the same limits on her personal evolution of consciousness! Thank you God and thank you Myrtle!
So what are we doing in this human process of remembering? We are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us to grasp a glimpse of future evolution they could not yet see. And from that vantage point we can also look backwards at the history of choices, decisions and actions and understand what formed the evolutionary process to bring them to the reality they experienced. We remember to honor, but to also get a clearer view, to learn from the past and to glimpse the possibilities of the future. When I was in grade school we always had a parade on Memorial Day that ended back at the school with a ceremony and a reading of the poem “In Flanders Fields” which I want to read to you now.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
While this is a moving tribute notice that it is actually a call to stay stuck in the old consciousness: Take up our quarrel with the foe so that our lives were not lost in vain. Stay stuck in the same old fight! It is not a Unity consciousness, is it? If we only remember with our human understanding, we are bound to repeat the patterns of the past….and stay stuck in them. But as we stand on the shoulders of those who went before us, we are able to get a clearer view, a broader perspective to glimpse the possibilities of the future wherein we don’t break faith with those who have gone before, but we hold an energy for an evolution of consciousness for all. As the sign on a church marquee said, “Don’t confuse what can’t be done with what hasn’t been done yet?”
The real gift of remembering is clarity about what contributes to an evolution of consciousness and what does not so that we are aware and empowered to make the at times difficulty choices that do what really contributes positively to the next turn of the evolutionary spiral. Let us, in remembering the past, hold an intention to learn from it, not repeat it. When we integrate the experiences of the past, we can let go of them and truly learn so that our choices and behavior reflect a new pattern. The message of Memorial Day is to remember so that we can embrace the possibility of creating a future that is different from the past. And isn’t that the true essence of Unity? Charles Fillmore said, “Life is an ever-progressing upward spiral of conscious evolution.” It is not mindless repetition of the past or veneration of it. His vision was to hold the possibility of a spiritual evolution of consciousness for all people that would supersede what he called race consciousness. He held a vision for all beings to realize the incredible power of their spiritual nature and to not stay stuck in the limited power of their human nature. WOW! What a vision…a future different from the past! A spiritual vision! Just as an aside, we are going to be placing that Charles Fillmore statement here in the Sanctuary in the near future.
I wondered, as I worked through this Memorial Day talk this week if Jesus had anything to say about honoring the dead, the fallen. It turns out that he did, and it was quite radical and an abrupt departure from what was expected in Jewish culture at that time. His statements show up in both the Gospel of Matthew and of Luke. The scholars of the Jesus Seminar agreed that it is likely that Jesus actually said these things so these passages are in pink, a designation of great credibility! The passages are in Matthew 9:18-22 and Luke 9: 57-61. In each case, there is a great number of people following Jesus and they want to know what it would take to become one of his official “followers.” Here is the story from Luke:
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” (NRSV)
If we look at this passage metaphysically, we note that Jesus says, Son of Man, not Son of God. He is referring to our human self in contrast to the animals and birds who have nests and holes in which to reside. Our human self has no place to rest because we are not bound by instinct and our animal nature. We are able to seek a higher consciouness in which to reside, which he names later in the passage as the “Kingdom of God.” And Jesus is very clear that if we choose to follow him, we do not revere the past or stay stuck in it…. “let the dead bury their dead.” This is a profound violation of Jewish laws with respect to the deceased and an iconoclastic call our of our human attachments into a consciousness of the Christ where we can truly be free. Wow that is a radical invitation, back in 1st century Palestine and today.
We can personally let go of what our parents and grandparents gave us…the good, the bad and the ugly, and step into a consciousness of the Christ …remembering that we are Spirit, and that we are called to bring into manifestation a new reality of more love, more peace, more beauty, more awareness of Truth. Let us remember, this Memorial Day, who we really are and that when we truly follow the Christ, we proclaim the Kingdom of God, right here, right now!
Blessings and freedom this Decoration Day!