I Heard The Mystic Chords Today

People at Memorial Day Observance Mystic chords
Memorial Day observance in Lyons, WI

Did you hear the mystic chords today?

You’re not so sure how they sound?

That’s okay.

The Sound Of Mystic Chords

They sounded like “Present arms,” and “To the front salute,” from a weak veteran with a strong voice.

They sounded like America the Beautiful and The Battle Hymn of the Republic sung from the heart.

And they sounded like Amazing Grace from droning bagpipes while the rippling flag was raised, and Taps.

These are the chords that restored our memory. These are the mystic chords.

Mystic Chords Of Memory

But the mystic chords also sounded like these words from Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address:

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

My dad read those words aloud at the observance at the Lyons Town Hall this morning.

Mystic chords of memory—the sound of the phrase drew me in. But what did Lincoln mean?

I did some digging.

Mystic Chords Of Collective Memory

I found Wildred McClay, in this piece he wrote for The Heritage Foundation.


To understand what sort of appeal Lincoln was making with these words we need to recall the setting in which the address was given in March of 1861. In the wake of Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860 without the support of a single Southern state, seven states from the Deep South had already left the Union, and the crucial border states were on the verge of doing so as well. The Union that Lincoln so greatly cherished seemed to be dissolving before his eyes…

For Lincoln, the battlefields and patriot graves deserved our reverence not simply for sentimental reasons, or out of reverence for our ancestors’ great sacrifices, but because of the cause for which they sacrificed. It would not have been enough had they merely died for the 19th-century equivalent of baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. They died, as Lincoln expressed it in the Gettysburg Address, in order that government of the people, by the people, and for the people “shall not perish from the earth.” They died, he asserted, to sustain the possibility of a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

“The Discipline Of Collective Memory”

McClay continues,

In the end, communities and nation-states are constituted and sustained by such shared memories — by stories of foundation, conflict, and perseverance. The leap of imagination and faith, from the thinness and unreliability of our individual memory to the richness of collective memory, that is the leap of civilized life; and the discipline of collective memory is the task not only of the historian, but of every one of us.

Historical consciousness draws us out of a narrow preoccupation with the present and with our “selves,” and ushers us into another, larger world — a public world that “cultures” us, in all the senses of that word.

This is our task. The mystic chords are God-sent to rouse us, together, to remember what matters. We interpret our present through the sacred past, rather than deconstruct the past to make sense of the fleeting present.

The mystic chords call us to this. They are all about collective memory, about remembering shared stories together. This holds us together.

Patriots do this. Christians do this. We remember our story together.

“A Memorial People”

The boys and I do not have individual memories of those who died in war. But we are not excused from remembering. It remains our duty to remember them. We believers are, as Jon Bloom explained, “a memorial people.”

So with help from the veterans and the song leader and my dad, and with gratitude—to those who gave all to preserve this nation and the Lord who rules all nations—we did that. We had our memory restored.

For who can possibly sing, “As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,” without her Christian memory being stirred? I cannot. “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).

Those 15 minutes in the parking lot this morning drew us “out of a narrow preoccupation with the present and with ourselves.”

Which is a very good place to be.

What mystic chords took you there today?

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you…

John 15:13-14a

Dressing Up

Rather clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, 

and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  

Romans 13:14

Aahhhrrrgh! (Pronounced: MAD!)

The boys’ bikes were sprawled across the front sidewalk AGAIN. Three times in 30 minutes, we’d gone over bike parking protocol. But here they were AGAIN; obstacles to the front door during the birthday bash.

But, just as the words migrated from thought to tongue, I GOT DRESSED.

Don’t get me wrong, I was still in the fuchsia top and green skirt I wore to church. I mean- really dressed up:  I held my peace. It felt weird and unnatural, it did: putting off sword thrust words and putting on peace. A lot like the restrictive, itchy feeling I get when I let Jim get the last word in matrimonial tiff.

Fake it ’til you make it, my sister-in-law says.

Act like success you’ll be. Play the part. Pretend like it fits.

We stood, saluting our veterans at the Memorial Day parade this morning. Some carried flags, others shuffled along barely keeping step. Most rode in shiny convertibles. All were in uniform. 
I bet each one remembers the first time he dressed in his Army green or Dress white.  And I bet the uniforms felt stiff and uncomfortable at first. They were dressing up. 
C. S. Lewis wrote Mere Christianity in 1943. It contains one of the best descriptions of Christian growth penned since Paul:

Whatever else you say, you will probably say the Lord’s prayer.  Its very first words are Our Father. Do you now see what those words mean?  They mean, quite frankly, that you are putting yourself in the place of a son of God.  To but it bluntly, you are dressing up as Christ. If you like, you are pretending…In a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek. But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it.

Why? What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending.  The bad kind, where the pretense is there instead of the real thing; as when pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretense leads up to the real thing.  

When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are.  And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were.

Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important.  They are always pretending to be grown-ups-playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits, so that the pretense of being grown-up helps them grow up in earnest.

Now, the moment you realize, “Here I am, dressing up as Christ,” it is extremely likely that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretense could be made less of a pretense and more of a reality…Well, go and do it.

You see what is happening. The Christ Himself, the Son of God who is man (just like you) and God (just like His Father) is actually at your side and is already at that moment beginning to turn your pretense into a reality.  

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 160-162 

It almost hurts; this putting on Christ, or maybe it’s the putting off the old self that’s so uncomfortable. Eustace was in pain when Aslan peeled away his dragon skin.

I dress up when I refrain from anger and turn from wrath. The clothes are stiff and itchy. Still, I act the part. I pretend to be adorned with a gentle, quiet spirit. 

And instead of an 80 dB

Boys, get over HEEERE this instant!  

 the dressed-up me, calmly calls, at maybe 40 dB:

Boys, would you please come help me move your bikes?

Pretense becoming reality. Faking it ’til we’re remade. In all things growing up into Christ.

Instead, speaking the truth in love we will in all things grow up 

into Him who is the head, that is, Christ. 

Ephesians 4:15

Justin Taylor offers a good, quick summary of the NT language of putting on and putting off.