On the State of Our American Disunion

Note: This is the text of a reflection I shared this past evening, January 11, 2021, with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, during the Facebook livestreamed An Order for Compline from The Book of Common Prayer.


Democracy. From the Greek, dēmokratia, from demos, “common people” + kratos, “rule” or “strength”; thus, nearly literally, “the power of the people.”

Republic. From the Latin, respublica, from res, “a thing or matter” + publicus, “public”, that is, open to general observation and interest.

The United States of America can be defined as a democratic republic and, further, as a representative democracy.

However, America is not in the purest sense a direct democracy; for we, the people, do not vote on every issue or concern facing our national interest. We have elected and appointed representatives in three federal realms of governance, executive, legislative, and judicial; each with constitutionally-accorded authority, each with limits on that accorded authority.

When the elements of our national union are held in balance – which, in the purest state, never happens, though, I think, historically, we have drawn close, particularly in times of crisis when the nation was under assault from without[1] – all is well.

When the elements, indeed, the peoples of this land, are not in balance, when, as one of our hymns sings in reference to the church, “by schisms rent asunder and by heresies distressed,”[2] the nation is under assault from within, all is not well.

And all is not well. We are a nation, a people divided.

By our ideologies; political, racial, social.

By our loyalties, both regarding principle and person.

By our perspectives on history; how to read and interpret our past.

By our views of what constitutes truth and, therefore, what and who is trustworthy.

And, perhaps most tellingly, most fearfully, by our differences on the question of the practicality of peace and the valiancy of the use of violence to achieve our aims.

These are tumultuous times, which, for us, as Christians, summon us more greatly, in the words of the Apostle Paul, to “pray without ceasing.”[3] I interpret the practice of endless prayer to mean that we, in our every thought and feeling, intention and action, lay down our lives in sacrifice at the altar of God, Who, through the Holy Spirit, will empower us anew to do the Divine Will.

So, my beloved, let us pray in those familiar words, which, for me, express the Divine will:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let us sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is discord, union;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


Let us, my beloved, pray, too, in these coming days of national transition under the looming threat of intrusion and disruption:

O Lord, by Your Spirit, strengthen, with the purity of purpose and the nobility of honor, police officers, National Guard personnel, and all first responders called to safeguard our tranquility. And, by Your same Spirit, O Lord, turn the hearts of those who would commit violence to the pathways of peaceful engagement that our differences may be heard and understood and that our labors to reknit our now torn national tapestry may proceed with the guidance of Your loving grace; this we ask in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

© 2021 PRA

[1] Here, I think, for example, the days, weeks, and months in the immediate aftermath of the Tuesday, September 11, 2001, terrorist assault on America.

[2] From The Church’s one foundation (1866); words by Samuel John Stone (1839-1900)

[3] 1 Thessalonians 5.17

[4] Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)

2 thoughts on “On the State of Our American Disunion

  1. Paul,

    Thank you so much for putting such accurate, descriptive and powerful words to the current state of our country. I’m leading Compline tomorrow night, may I use your prayer from the end of this post as one of the prayers? Of course I will attribute it to you!



  2. Of course, Loretta, feel free to use my prayer.

    This reflection/meditation was inspired by a St. Matthew’s parishioner who texted me an hour or two before Compline expressing fear about the current state of things and asking that I please pray for the health of our democracy. When I sat down to compose a prayer, these words about our democracy and republic flowed. The Spirit of God, I believe, stirred my heart and sparked my thoughts.



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