Battle Hymn of the Unitarian

This year’s Ultimate Thursday of the 12 Days of Thorns falls on the birthday of Julia Ward Howe, a Unitarian best known for writing the lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, a march calling the righteous abolitionist to war. 

And, the spirit of militant abolitionism — which finally crushed the slave economy after decades of impotent pacifist abolitionism satisfied its own sentimentality while the slaves suffered in bondage — is perfectly congruous with the lesson of this dozenal.  There can be no moral success, no advance of justice, without trial and tribulation.

Those seeking the easy way out of injustice will usually instead find no way out.

Unfortunately, after the War of Liberation, Ms. Howe reverted to the pacifism that had for so long shackled abolitionism, and kept generations of African Americans shackled along with it.  Even so, the words of her Hymn still ring true for those who seek justice, truth, and freedom with open eyes.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have built Him up an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As you deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.”

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make them free,
While God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.