In this highly original approach to the history of the United States, James Moore focuses on the extraordinary role that prayer has played in every area of American life, from the time of the first settlers to the present day and beyond.
A stirring chronicle of the spiritual life of a nation, One Nation Under God shows how the faith of Americans—from the founding fathers to corporate tycoons, from composers to social reformers, from generals to slaves—was an essential ingredient in the formation of American culture, character, commerce and creed.
One Nation Under God brings together the country’s hymns, patriotic anthems, arts, and literature as a framework for telling the story of the innermost thoughts of the people who have shaped the United States we know today. Beginning with Native Americans, One Nation Under God traces the prayer lives of Quakers and Shakers, Sikhs and Muslims, Catholics and Jews, from their earliest days in the United States through the advent of cyberspace, the aftermath of 9/11, and the 2004 presidential election. It probes the approach to prayer by such diverse individuals as Benjamin Franklin, Elvis Presley, Frank Lloyd Wright, Martha Graham, J. C. Penney, Mary Pickford, Cesar Chavez, P. T. Barnum, Jackie Robinson, and Christopher Columbus. It includes every president of the United States as well as America’s farmers, clergy, immigrants, industrialists, miners, sports heroes, and scientists.
One Nation Under God shows that without prayer, the political, cultural, social, and even economic and military history of the United States would be vastly different from what it is today. It engages in a thoughtful, timely examination of the modern debate over public prayer and how the current approach to prayer bears deep roots in the philosophies of the country’s founding fathers, a subject which remains distinct from the debate over church and state.
From the Hardcover edition.
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James P. Moore, Jr.teaches at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. A former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce, he sits on a number of corporate and nonprofit boards. He resides in Washington, D.C.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
EXPLORERS, AND SETTLERS
* * *
God created this Indian country and it was like He spread out a big blanket. He put the Indians on it. They were created here in this country, and that was the time this river started to run. Then God created fish in this river and put deer in these mountains and made laws through which has come the increase of game and fish . . . Whenever the seasons open I raise my heart in thanks to the Creator for his bounty that this food has come.
--Meninock, Yakima chief, 1915
The history of prayer in America began unfolding long before the golden age of exploration, a fact often missed by modern Americans. Nonetheless, when European settlers arrived in the New World, they did not at first recognize the unique spiritual heritage of Native Americans. Religious, cultural, and language barriers too often obfuscated the fact that these various tribes and nations had developed their own prayers and devotional rituals over generations. While Native Americans' conception of a higher power had been formed in isolation of revelations experienced by other civilizations, their desire to express themselves spiritually was every bit as intense and as devout. In time both groups would come to recognize their common spirituality.
On the eve of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World, more than 250 languages, largely unintelligible to one another, were spoken throughout the territory that now makes up the United States.1 From the Inuits of the Arctic, whom the English voyager Martin Frobisher first encountered, to the Seminoles of Florida, who greeted the Spanish explorer Ponce de Le—n in his quest for the fountain of youth, entire Indian nations had developed independent cultures. For Native Americans, prayer stood as a channel to some guiding force that they did not clearly understand but that, they believed, contributed in some important way to their existence. Central to all of them was a profound sense of a higher power, who had a critical impact on their welfare.
American Indians thrived in a daily rhythm in which the word "religion" did not exist, simply because no distinct creed of faith could be separated from existence itself. No churches were built; no weekdays were set aside for worship. Life and prayer were practically seamless. In effect, God cast no shadow because Native Americans integrated the divine into all things. An etched panel at the Jemez State Monument in New Mexico, written by an anonymous member of the Jemez tribe, captures the basic Indian approach to spirituality: "We have no word that translates what is meant by 'religion.' We have a spiritual life that is part of us twenty-four hours a day. It determines our relationship with the natural world of our fellow man. Our religious practices are the same as in the time of our ancestors."2
Through the power, wisdom, and genuine love of the Great Creator, all living things by extension were sacred. Indeed the word "sacred" was interwoven into the languages and pervaded the thoughts of all Native Americans. Its very notion sustained a reverence that reminded them always of their obligations as inheritors of the earth and vanguards of their people--past, present, and future. In many ways Native Americans were more attuned to prayer than most newly arrived Europeans and Africans. They often built doors to their tepees and huts to the East, allowing them to wake up in the morning, face the sun, and pray as their first act of the day. "Each soul must meet the morning sun, the new sweet earth, and the Great Silence alone," was how Ohiyesa put it.3 One Indian chief, in what today is Oklahoma, put it another way more than a century ago: "When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light. Give thanks for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and give thanks for the joy of living. And if per chance you see no reason for giving thanks, rest assured the fault is in yourself."4
Few early Native Americans took their lives for granted. In prayer they thanked all living things. Only in practice did prayer differ from nation to nation, defined by geography, climate, harvests, hunting, and other circumstances. The Hupas of northwestern California held an annual acorn feast, normally celebrated in November, to express their gratitude for the latest acorn harvest. After the elaborate sacred invocations were finished, the tribe would eat the first acorns that had fallen from the tan oak trees nearby, jubilant that for another season the Creator had blessed them. "All plants are our brothers and sisters," they believed. "They talk to us and if we listen, we can hear them." A Choctaw hunter in modern Louisiana would always whisper before killing his prey, "Deer, I am sorry to hurt you. But the people are hungry."5 America's flora and fauna were sacred, integral members of the Indian life cycle.
The environment played an important part in the life of Native Americans, contributing to a peaceful spiritual existence for the Navajos of the southwest deserts or the more ambitious Algonquins in the woodlands of the Northeast. The Inuits of the Arctic, better known as Eskimos, were a case in point. Never numbering more than 100,000 and spread over a territory that extended from Alaska to Greenland, they were greatly influenced by climate and their immediate surroundings. The water and the sky were the focus of their needs for survival and, in turn, of their prayers. The aurora borealis, those great northern lights, constantly reminded them of the wonders of the universe.
In the midst of the long, dark winter and the seemingly endless daylight of summer, the Inuits conjured up fascinating tales that gave rise to their prayers. Some stories told of the old woman who lived under the sea and interacted with the waters and the great spirits of the earth where the Inuits gathered most of their food. Prayer was such a potent force for the Inuit people that it was used as an independent, powerful commodity to be traded. These prayers, known as serrats, originated from the visions of blessed people and were thought to have the power to either heal or impart good fortune. Seen as independent forces in their own right, serrats would be bartered, allowing the owner to receive something of great value in return.6
While each person would commune with the spirit world throughout the day, their prayers as second nature to them as breathing, they would also join one another in offering special invocations. Within a group, prayer could be spoken, chanted, whispered, or sung, almost always through one individual on behalf of everyone else. The words, rhythms, and melodies were carefully chosen to convey the images and the proper setting of a particular petition. Special ceremonial dances were performed to provide meaning to a prayer, each step and bodily movement holding special significance. Together penitents worked toward achieving "one thought," a collective mindfulness in reaching out to a higher power.
At critical moments in their lives, Native Americans relied on the skills of the shaman. The shaman, either a man or a woman, could possess various levels of spiritual potency and perform certain rituals that varied widely from tribe to tribe. Despite the differences, however, shamans shared one vital purpose: they served as a medium to the spiritual world.
A tribe would determine whether a person was destined to become a shaman during his or her childhood and adolescence. At a tender age, a future shaman would undergo some spiritual experience, not always comprehensible to others but confirmed and blessed by the elders. From that transforming moment, the tribe would formally recognize the chosen one's calling and ability to help effect change in the future life of the tribe.
The novice shaman would then face an initiation rite in which he or she would attest to out-of-body experiences. Whether soaring to the heavens or plunging to the depths of the underworld, a shaman would meet the spirits with whom a lifetime relationship would be formed. These gods and other supernatural forces would provide the shaman with the wherewithal to perform everything from curing sickness to ensuring that the fall harvest or the upcoming buffalo hunt would yield enough food for the tribe.
In their vision quests and supplications to the supernatural, Native Americans used objects and natural substances to enhance their rituals. Prayer sticks, prayer bowls, and prayer feathers were integral to their ceremonies, as were animal skulls and bones. Colorful attire was worn to project a particular mood and carry special petitions to the Creator. Special drums, bells, and wind instruments were played only in sacred settings. Tobacco, corn husks, and even hallucinatory peyote from western cactus were used to heighten the human senses in spiritual encounters.
One of the more endearing prayer ceremonies involved the use of the sacred pipe, a tradition among tribes in the West and Midwest. Finding a special, holy spot, a shaman or elder would pack a long ornamental pipe with some natural substance and turn the bowl of the pipe in the direction of the heavens, as if to offer the Almighty a smoke from his pipe.
Like the practitioners of many world religions, Native Americans showed their reverence by both fasting and praying, cleansing their bodies and souls in the process. Not unlike Muslims who wash their feet and hands before entering a mosque, many Indians built sweat lodges, the equivalent of saunas, to cleanse themselves before praying on important occasions. The Iroquois nation in today's upstate New York even conducted "thanksgiving addresses" every time a tribal ceremony was held to show gratitude to their Creator. More regularly, they would chant a series of spiritual "gratitudes" similar to the litanies of Catholics or the mantras of Asian religions. To lend their prayer of thanks the greatest piety possible, they...
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