I have struggled with patriotism since I was ten years old and actually started living in this country. Before that, living in Hong Kong, I thought of the United States as fondly as a child living in a foreign land can. I savored overpriced Oreos from Evergreen, the American import shop down the street from our apartment building. Any country that could produce such a delicacy had to be a good one. When we moved to the United States in 1991, I thought to myself as the 747 jet descended into the beautiful green Northwest: “So this is the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
That fall I was an awkward fifth grader in a new school and a new country. I missed my friends, I missed the beach down the hill, I missed the fact that I could take public transportation on my own. I became paranoid about safety, I lost interest in school, and I had to start seeing the school counselor to help with my maladjustment. The spring of that first year back, my class had a patriotic concert, and I rewrote the lyrics of every song to meld with my patriotic frustrations. “Every heart beats true under red, white, and blue, and there’s never a boast or brag” became “Every heart beats fake under red, white, and cake, and there’s always boasts and brags.” I sang loudly, and the school counselor really had to step up her game after that concert.
Although now I see a homesick little girl in those memories, it’s fair to say that moving here ended my patriotic honeymoon, and I’ve struggled ever since to pray for a country that’s never felt exactly like home. And yet in reading our two passages this week from the Old Testament, I see a strong call to pray for the land in which we find ourselves living, to confess our sins and seek God’s will and favor for our earthly home. The Lord appears to Solomon in a dream, telling him, “…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 I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14).
People neglect praying for their nation for different reasons. Perhaps you struggle finding a place to pray. If so, have you ever heard the phrase “a thin place”? Though at first glance you might think it refers to a gym or an aerobics class, a thin place is not actually a place where you go to get thinner. It is a place where the physical and spiritual realms seem to touch, or at least where the distance between the two feels thin. It could be a place where the presence of God seems very tangible—either in the beauty of nature, or in a cathedral or church building. Our readings indicate that in the Old Testament there were actually thin places designated by God, where he resided in ways beyond the experience of everyday life. In Solomon’s dream after the temple is built, God says, “Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there” (2 Chronicles 7:15-16).
We do not have the benefit of God residing in a physical temple anymore where we can be certain of his presence. However, we all have “thin” places where we experience God’s presence and may find it easier to pray—whether a place that is meaningful only to us, or through the sacraments, which are physical manifestations of spiritual realities.
Or if, like me, your difficulty in praying for the nation comes because you struggle to feel at home here, heed the words of Wendell Berry: “And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.”
With God’s grace and guidance, find your home, and pray for it.