The violent storm that had struck off the coast of Donegal, Ireland, in 1748 was threatening to take down Captain John Newton’s ship, the Greyhound. Newton was not a religious man, and moreover he was a slave trader: The cargo hold was filled with Africans who had been captured and were now chained in horrific conditions.
As the high waves and winds threatened to sink the ship, Newton fell on his knees and, for the first time in his life, began praying to God for mercy. In that moment, his prayers were heard: He felt God’s presence and started to reform his life.
Eventually Newton became an Anglican priest and worked for the abolition of slavery. His legacy is the song “Amazing Grace,” which has inspired millions of people over the years since it was written.
Today in America our situation is parallel in many ways to John Newton’s experience. As a nation we carry the burden of many people still being shackled by racial hatred and prejudice. A violent storm is upon us, caused not by wind and waves, but by the arousing of our American conscience and passion for justice.
A prayer for justice and mercy is rising up from the soul of this country: a nation founded on spiritual principles and a pledge of equality for all its people. Abraham Lincoln stated this high purpose in 1863 during one of the darkest hours in the Civil War when he delivered the Gettysburg Address. He concluded by urging “that we here highly resolve . . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
America’s high purpose was affirmed also by Rev. Francis Bellamy in 1892, when national feeling was again at a low ebb. He wrote the Pledge of Allegiance primarily for school children to awaken them to the great vision from which America sprang. In its current form, the closing words are: “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
There is a tremendous battle before us now to right the injustices that exist in the world and to reclaim this nation’s high purpose. Each of us must do our part as we feel within.
As devotees, we have both a personal and a social responsibility. First, we should redouble our efforts to achieve soul freedom for ourselves and others. Then we must humbly try to draw the divine grace that will raise global consciousness, which in turn will bring outer freedom for all.
It is time to rise up in challenge to all forms of bondage: materialistic greed, egotism, racism, divisive nationalism. In their place, let us work towards a rebirth of higher values: simplicity of life, awareness of our higher Self, and an understanding of the oneness of all people, all nations under God.
Our guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, endured racial prejudice and inequities during the years he brought his mission of world brotherhood and soul freedom to the West. In his “Prayer for a United World,” he wrote: “Let us pray in our hearts for a League of Souls and a United World. Though we may seem divided by race, creed, color, class, and political prejudices, still, as children of the one God we are able to feel brotherhood and world unity. May we work for the creation of a United World in which every nation will be a useful part, guided by God through man’s enlightened conscience.”
May the “Amazing Grace” that John Newton received touch human hearts in this hour of need, and awaken people everywhere to the universal love and acceptance that resides within us all.
Your friend in God,