Like countless other schoolchildren before and since, my 1950s classmates and I lined up in rows on the school playground every morning, put our hands over our hearts and repeated the words, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
On rainy or cold days, the assembly moved to the school cafeteria. Apart from that variation, the only change in the pattern was one year when the new rule came out to omit the two words "under God." I remember it took a while to adjust to the new rhythm: "one nation...(pause)...indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
As I think about the pledge today, in the proliferation of flag-flying in the wake of Sept. 11, I have a new appreciation for it. I see it in a new and more universal light - even as a kind of spiritual promise. To me, it holds out a vision of the world as it's meant to be - one indivisible nation of equality and respect. This state isn't defined by physical borders, gross domestic product, or military prowess. You could say it's a mental state. The pledge takes on more power for me when I think of it as declaring loyalty to a set of values that includes truth, humility, love and justice. Pledge becomes prayer, then - a desire to bring out these values in my own life, and by modest example to encourage others to do the same.
Commitment to prayer doesn't have to mean disengagement from political discussion and action. Joining in conversations with friends and family about world events has helped me clarify my views. I sent e-mails to my congressmen and the president after the terrorist attacks, weighing in on how I thought the US should respond. I've also tried to keep the promise I made in those e-mails - to pray for reason rather than rage to govern the national response to terrorism.
More recently, as the world settles down to the hard work of supporting Afghans in the establishment of a new government, I've been praying in the way I've found most powerful in my own life. This prayer involves raising my vision to a spiritual plane - to the consciousness of a universal family that has no conflicts. To me, this family of spiritual beings is the genuine one. It's the expression of the one Life that I feel comfortable calling God. When I pray, I'm aware that Life and all its diverse expressions are undivided - one origin, one substance and intelligence - with no history of wrongs or misunderstanding to disturb the unity.
To describe prayer as raising one's vision reminds me of an analogy I thought of when I lived in New England for several years. After a heavy snowfall, people with no indoor parking put their shoulders to the gargantuan task of digging out their cars. For those parked on the street, city snowplows complicate the task by regularly pushing the snow just pitched into the street back onto the car. Some days, the shoveling takes Herculean effort.
What never ceased to amaze me, though, was how effortlessly nature performed the same task when the temperature rose just a few degrees. Hours of digging couldn't match the sun's power. I like to think of God's power to melt strife that way. Prayer is a ray of divine power, and the most powerful prayer is accepting the whole family of men, women, creatures, and nature as the undivided, spiritual, wholly good manifestation of the Life that is divine Love itself.
In the privacy of my own thinking, it feels natural to reinstate the words "under God" in the pledge, especially in the spirit of this statement by the Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy: "God is universal; confined to no spot, defined by no dogma, appropriated by no sect. Not more to one than to all, is God demonstrable as divine Life, Truth, and Love; and His people are they that reflect Him - that reflect Love" ("Miscellaneous Writings," pg. 150).
We are all one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.