Trying to Save this Nation’s Soul

Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

This Week at Plymouth, April 26, 2024

When will I see an end to destruction and woe
And how will I see no division in my life
There comes a time to make amends
Never too late to try again
To save our soul

—Clannad, “Anam”

In recent years, amid the coarsening of our discourse, the rise of political radicalization, and the deepening social and religious chasm in our communities, politicians, pundits, and thinkers have talked more about the need to save our nation’s soul. I’ve gone from a bemused agnosticism about the notion of the state having a soul to an academic, philosophical reflection on what it means to think of our nation as exhibiting the characteristics of a healthy soul. Assuming the Platonic idea that a nation, just like an individual, must find the appropriate balance between self-control, wisdom, and courage, I am hard-pressed not to conclude that our country has already lost its soul.

But, I understand the appeal of using the soul analogy to reflect upon the nation’s core purpose, promise, and possibility. However, when I consider our nation’s history, including the massacre of indigenous people, the enslavement and legal oppression of Black people, and the visceral resistance to a generous provision of a social safety net for the most vulnerable, our nation’s soul has been weary and battered long before our current circumstances. And yet, even though this talk of our nation’s soul remains undefined and nebulous, I admit that the language of a national soul and the desire to save it sound familiar to me. I see it in the oracles of the Hebrew prophets who called Israel to awaken and tend to her spiritual essence, promising that God would create a new heart and new spirit in the people if Israel returned to faithfulness. The prophetic challenge to Israel was hopeful: her soul could be saved.

Perhaps reflection on the nation’s soul remains helpful and necessary given our current social, political, and economic malaise and disorientation. Abraham Lincoln and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King called citizens to reckon with the nation’s breaking soul during their times, reminding us during the Civil War and with civil disobedience that our nation’s purpose, promise, and prospects were always savable and worthy of saving. More important than any certainty about the meaning of a nation’s soul is the more powerful assurance that it is not too late to save it. I found inspiration for this from the Irish band Clannad. In their song “Anam,” which means “soul,” they sing that it is “never too late to try again to save our soul.” We can keep trying to perfect this union. We can commit to creating a nation that keeps faith with its people through self-control, wisdom, and courage. The prophets invited Israel to keep trying, as did Lincoln and King with Americans. It’s never too late to try again and keep trying to save our soul.