The 4th of July, and a Reflection on Strength

Q: What can I do to be a blessing to the world today?

A: This.

strengthSelf-discipline, inner strength, “mind over matter,” and passions brought to heel: These are all suggested by the image of the maiden taming a savage beast in the form of a lion. But there is another quality that is implied if not stated overtly: The quality of mercy and gentleness. The maiden here is not harsh in appearance, nor in the manner in which she “disciplines” the lion. If anything, her corrective hand, while steady, is also gentle, allowing the animal to keep its mouth open, to feed or to breathe, but not giving it free rein to roar or bellow in anger, or to likewise cause a commotion. This speaks, again, to our own need for self-discipline, to keep our own mouths under control lest we cause commotions in our discourse—the kind of intemperate noise-making that manifests itself in as cruel and abusive language. If we pause to think of all the times we’ve ever given voice to an ugly thought in a spirit of superiority, and wished in retrospect that we could “take it back,” we are reminded that silence—like the dominant color of this card—can at times be golden indeed.

Such a sentiment bears keeping in mind on a day such as today, when we will hear speeches and sermons in high praise of the homeland, from sea to shining sea. Amid all the speechifying and tub-thumping, perhaps we’re best advised to exercise some national self-discipline in the same spirit of forbearance that the maiden shows to the lion, giving sufficient voice to love of country while resisting the temptation to engage in mindless nationalism, which is nothing so serious as a state of collective narcissism. We can proclaim our loyalty in more ways than flag-waving and mythologizing; one of the greatest works of patriotism that we can undertake, in reality, is to take the same honest assessment of our nation as we would ourselves—to soberly weigh its vices as well as its virtues—and to pray that it be healed of whatever sufferings may afflict it. As we do this, we also pray that we, as a people, would be healed of our afflictions, that we would set a shining example to others through the enlightened exercise of wisdom and self-discipline, and not as boastful exemplars of some imaginary “exceptionalism” that we would wield like a cudgel to intimidate others.

We are all reflections of the Divine Creator, each of us an infinitesimal fragment of an ever-expanding universe of light that lies outside the boundaries of space and time. We can help to create a world where the lion and the maiden coexist in harmony—in the truest sense, it is the reason why were have been sent here. Those of us who fail at this task—or worse, who deny it altogether in some misguided act of patriotic fervor—need to be corrected of their errant ways. We can do this through vainglorious threats of coercion and violence, or we can do it through living the examples of right action and right thought, by extolling the virtues of self-discipline in a spirit of forgiveness and mercy. We know which way the maiden of Strength, and the state of psychic equilibrium that she personifies, would have us behave. Let us follow her example in earnest.

Dante DiMatteo

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