Duncan Newcomer’s Abraham Lincoln Quiet Fire—’A Christmas Carol’ with Abraham Lincoln

This entry is part 33 of 33 in the series Duncan Newcomer's Quiet Fire

Charles Dickens

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This week we have an audio treat for you! All of Duncan Newcomer’s ReadTheSpirit columns—and the chapters of his book 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln: Quite Fireare based on episodes in a long-running radio series broadcast from Maine’s public radio station WERU. The stories always vary somewhat from text to radio broadcast. If you would like to hear Duncan’s recent 6-minute broadcast version of this column—please click here to listen via WERU’s online streaming service.

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By DUNCAN NEWCOMER
Host of the ‘Quiet Fire’ series

This is Quiet Fire, a reflection on the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln and its relevance to us today. Welcome.

Here’s Lincoln quote for you: “Bah, Humbug!”

Charles Dickens’ 1842 tour. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

Right! Lincoln never said that. It is hard to imagine that he ever would ever have said this. Lincoln is the least “Bah, Humbug!” person you can imagine.

However, looking at the spiritual life of Lincoln, we can see that the pattern of redemption found in Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol would have been familiar to Lincoln. Dickens’ most enduring story was published in 1843, the year after the author toured America in 1842 to give public readings of his works. There’s little evidence that Lincoln read much of Dickens and we know the two men never met. However, we do know that Dickens came to admire Lincoln and was curious about him when he launched his second American tour in 1867. During that tour, Dickens wrote a long letter home saying that he had enjoyed a dinner with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, one of Lincoln’s closest advisors, during which Stanton described Lincoln’s final days in great, emotional detail.

While Lincoln and Dickens never met and there’s no record of Lincoln writing or talking about A Christmas Carol—Lincoln clearly would have known about this very popular story. More importantly, he would have recognized the arc of the story from his frontier camp-meeting revival days. Lincoln was very familiar with tales of poor sinners confronting their sins and reaching a heart-conversion.

At the end of the Dickens’ story, Scrooge sees the impact of his own miserliness. He fears that he may have missed any chance for redemption. Then, he awakens and opens his heart to his nephew’s family, his employee Bob Cratchit and Bob’s son Tiny Tim. We know Lincoln was the kind of person who would have smiled fondly and shed a tear at the character of Tiny Tim.

Charles Dickens’ 1867-68 tour. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

Dickens, of course, knew something of America’s Great Awakening revivalism. Among other things, he knew that classic American sermon by Jonathan Edwards about the sinner-spider dangling over the fire of hell suspended only by the hand of the angry but gracious God. We see that same pattern in the inner narrative of Ebenezer Scrooge’s awakening heart.

Scrooge is not so much greedy as he is miserly. He does not want to spend for anything, certainly not the poor. He is a hoarder. He growls that the needy are not his responsibility. “Is there not a safety-net!?!”

In his ghost-escorted tour, Scrooge begins by seeing himself when he was a lonely boy. He feels sympathy for himself and so do we, as readers of the tale. But he seems to feel that having things and keeping things will cure his wounded inner boy. We see him betray himself and his fiancée in his thirst for gold. Miserly greed becomes the habit of his heart and turns him into the heartless man who gives his assistant Bob Cratchit only a candle to keep warm during his long, cold, winter days at work.

Then, we are moved by the potential death of the ill Tiny Tim, the lame boy who finds joy in going to church on Christmas Eve so that people can see who it was that Jesus came to love. We are carried along to the good-hearted nephew’s family dinner.

But not Scrooge. He sees instead the greed of the very poor who he believes are willing to rob him. His spectral tour guide takes him to a future Christmas in which he has died and his servant steals his bed sheets and bed curtains from around him to sell for a bit of cash. He is remembered, in this vision, only as a cruel man resented by everyone.

Fear of his death, and of there being no chance left to change, seeps into Scrooge’s heart. He also is taken by the Ghost of Christmas Present to see the sufferings of the whole wide world on Christmas Eve. This begins to move Scrooge, to awaken his spirit.

The story is a morally inspired dream in which Scrooge finally does get the message, then awakens to celebrate his unearned reprieve.

Re-envisioning the tale:
A Christmas Carol with Abraham Lincoln

Now, Lincoln loved the theater of his own mind and said he’d rather read a Shakespeare play than see it on stage. So in the theater of our minds let us visit here another fantasy, a re-envisioning, A Christmas Carol with Abraham Lincoln:

Mr. Lincoln approached the White House door, but it opened slowly without his touching the latch. There, as he entered, was the ghost of old Thomas Jefferson with an urgent look on his face. He was draped in chains.

Jefferson moaned like Jacob Marley: “President Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln, you know I had hold of a wolf by its ears, slavery! Now I have these chains myself. But what of the country, Lincoln? What of the country?! Slavery was something that the next generations would have to solve. I could not, embedded in my way of life. We couldn’t as nation. We needed foreign trade for economic growth, and to support our rural way of life. So for cotton we needed slaves, for then, for a while.

Jefferson continued: “But you know, as did I, this was a terrible contradiction of the very Declaration of Independence that I had written. All men are created equal, I proclaimed. It was self-evident, and it was sacred. We all knew that: Franklin, Adams, and others. But we knew we were building our house on sand, not rock. What has become of that wolf, Lincoln? What has become of the slaves? What is to become of my own chains, the country’s chains? You must do something as President. You must. If not you too will be haunted by these chains, as am I. A ghost will come to you Abraham, three times, beware!”

And so came the Ghost of America Past. What did they see? What did Mr. Lincoln see?

He saw slaves like fish on a trout line. He saw violent men cross state borders to capture runaway slaves. He saw a moral evil growing in new states. He saw blacks being defined by the Supreme Count as non existent. He saw slaves being counted for the census at 3/5th of a person. He saw slave power becoming an oligarchy, and white middle class and poor families pushed to the margins. He saw Slave Empires ready to move south into Mexico and Central America. He saw the hope of self-government dying because of the state power needed to enforce humans as property.

Then came the question: “And, what about now, Mr. Lincoln?”

That’s when the Ghost of America Present took Lincoln around the nation that night, December 24, 1864. What did they see? They saw more hate, not less. They saw war. They saw General Sherman invade the South and burn a path across it. They saw Black soldiers from the Union being shot as prisoners not as military men. And they saw more and more hatred: Southern whites hating the federal government; Northern whites hating to fight for Black freedom rather than for just the Union.

They saw Lincoln as a dictator. “King Abraham.” They saw hundreds of thousands of deaths, mostly young men as soldiers north and south.

Lincoln recalled Jefferson’s moaning: “Lincoln, Lincoln. I have left you a legacy and an albatross. What will you do? What can you do? What can Americans do?”

Then the Ghost of America Yet To Come took Lincoln’s arm.

What did they see? What did they hear?

A Christmas Carol?

Did they hear mystic chords of memory? A chorus stretching from every patriot grave to every living heart and hearth-stone, a swelling chorus of Union, touching our better angels?

Could there be a rebirth without malice, a just and lasting peace within America, with the other nations?

“Lincoln,” said Thomas Jefferson, “you must prevail. America must become America. It cannot be left to me and my chains.”

From a story such as this a vision could light us, as it did Lincoln, down in honor, even to the latest generation.

This is Duncan Newcomer and this has been Quiet Fire, the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln.

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Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.

 

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Duncan Newcomer’s Abraham Lincoln Quiet Fire—’The Last Best Hope of Earth’

This entry is part 32 of 33 in the series Duncan Newcomer's Quiet Fire

THIS BRIEF VIDEO was made to introduce a 2013 Baltimore performance of Paula Vogel’s ‘A Civil War Christmas,’ a play that’s referenced in this column. The setting: It’s a bitterly cold Christmas Eve during the war and, from the White House to battlefields, friends and foes alike find their lives strangely and poetically intertwined. The New York Times calls this perennial classic a “beautifully stitched tapestry of American lives.” Due to the pandemic, this may be the first year in more than a decade that Vogel’s play will not be not presented somewhere across the U.S. In this column, Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer invokes Lincoln’s and Vogel’s wisdom about hope in the midst of chaos.

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By DUNCAN NEWCOMER
Host of the ‘Quiet Fire’ series

This is Quiet Fire, a reflection on the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln and its relevance to us today. Welcome.

Here’s a Lincoln quote for you: “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”

“The last best hope of earth.” Once again, Lincoln coined a phrase that has cascaded across more than a century into countless contexts and meanings—a phrase he built around that timeless virtue: hope.

Hope. A candle in the dark.

Hope is one of the three theological virtues in Christianity. It’s the theme of the first candle lit in the Christian ritual of lighting weekly candles during Advent, the four weeks that prepare us for Christmas. Lincoln was delivering these words 24 days before Christmas of 1862.

Here’s the context. He already had issued the Emancipation Proclamation in September of that year. He had not yet delivered his full summation of these themes at Gettysburg, an address that would come in November 1863. These words about “last best hope” appeared in the closing lines of Lincoln’s December 1, 1862, message to Congress. Today, we would call it his State of the Union. The full closing paragraph was:

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We—even we here—hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just—a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless. 

In his line about “hope,” Lincoln was summoning a global vision—the hope of the world for free government, for self government, for equality. A hope that belongs to the whole earth—that was Lincoln’s scope. Lincoln knew this was a rare and precious moment. He told Congress that history had given them an opportunity—a fiery trial—to make that hope come true.

A fiery trial. An opportunity to embody hope. So, too, as 2020 heads toward 2021 in this nation.

We see again how much the world needs the hope of equality and freedom—perhaps even the last best hope of earth.

The Christmas coming in 1862 was particularly bleak for Abe and Mary. Their boy Willie had died in February of that year. They were grieving. Two of the three most recent major Civil War battles had gone very badly for the Union. Abe and Mary would spend Christmas that year visiting the wounded soldiers in various hospitals in Washington. The many sick and the many, many dying were their concern.

He was the President, offering the hope of only his presence to the grieving and the dying.

Helping us to envision Lincoln and Christmas during the Civil War is a moving musical play, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel: A Civil War Christmas. Until the pandemic shut down most theaters, the play was presented somewhere across the country almost every year since Vogel wrote it more than a decade ago.

What does the play show? It shows Black people. It shows white people. It shows Mrs. Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Todd Lincoln’s Black American dress maker, future stalwart companion and author. The play shows us far more than just Abe and Mary. In fact, there are 61 different characters in this play, rich and poor, safe and in danger, all played by 16 actors. It is an American Musical. Folksongs, hymns, Carols, marches and spirituals bring the lost and the isolated into that one open-hearted place of hope we call Christmas in America.

The spirit of community is at stake in this play. We see the best of the human spirit arise in hope and forgiveness for so many different people—just as it can today.

One of outstanding lines from the play is this: “The hope of peace is sweeter than peace itself.”

And, for Christians, peace is the theme of the second week’s Advent Candle.

The play echoes Lincoln’s message. It is nothing less than the mystic chords of memory, stretching from every hospital and grave, every flooded hurricane-hit city to every burned-down town and home, from every Black life that didn’t seem to matter, to every living and opened heart in this broad land, yet swelling the chorus of the union, when again, all are touched, as surely they will be this Christmas, by the better angels of their nature.

Those are the candle flames that can light us, as they did Abraham Lincoln, down in honor, to the latest generation.

This is Duncan Newcomer and this has been Quiet Fire, the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln.

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Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.

 

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Prayer from Abraham Lincoln for Thanksgiving

LINCOLN scholar Duncan Newcomer has contributed many of the fascinating materials indexed in our Abraham Lincoln Resource Page. Drawing on Lincoln’s own words, from various texts, Newcomer has assembled this special prayer, perfect for use at Thanksgiving—the national holiday our 16th president established. Of course, you are free to widely share this prayer. Click the blue-“f” Facebook button, or the envelope-shaped email icon, or print this page and pass it around.

Inside the Lincoln Memorial Washington DCPrayer from Lincoln
at Thanksgiving

So, we must think anew,
And act anew.
We must disenthrall ourselves.
We are not enemies,
But friends.
We must not be enemies.
We cannot separate.
There is no line, straight or crooked,
Upon which to divide.
We cannot escape history.
No personal significance, or insignificance,
Can spare one or another of us.

The mystic chords of memory
Will yet swell the chorus of union
To every living heart
And hearthstone,
And again touch
The better angels of our nature.

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Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.

 

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Duncan Newcomer’s Abraham Lincoln Quiet Fire—Let’s remember how he reached across the aisle to discover new friends

This entry is part 30 of 33 in the series Duncan Newcomer's Quiet Fire

By DUNCAN NEWCOMER
Host of the ‘Quiet Fire’ series

This is Quiet Fire, a reflection on the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln and its relevance to us today. Welcome. Here’s a Lincoln quote for you:

“I do not think any man has the right thus to insult the feelings, and injure the morals, of the community in which he may live.”

This is on a campaign flier when Lincoln is running for the US Congress in 1846. He’s running against a very popular Methodist minister and revival preacher named Peter Cartwright. When the good reverend began to see that he was losing his bid for Congress, he accused Lincoln of being an infidel, a free thinker, of not being a proper Christian.

So this is Lincoln’s reply, his statement of religious tolerance. He asserts that, while he does not believe in God the way Cartwright does, he would never attack the religious feelings or the morality of those he might disagree with.

Lincoln ran for political office almost ten times in his life. Getting elected or being defeated were among the peak experiences of his life as a politician, and he was first and foremost a politician. And so in the spiritual life of Lincoln we can see much that was most true about him in these election moments.

In his response to the faith-baiting charge of the Rev. Cartwright, we see the secular humanism, the religious tolerance, and the empathy for the religious feelings of others that were bred in the bones of Lincoln.

Cartwright got his “come-up-ence,” it is told, when he asked Lincoln to attend one of his services. Lincoln did. Cartwright, at one point in the service, asked those who felt they were saved and going to heaven to stand. Everyone but Lincoln stood. After all sat down, Cartwright singled out Lincoln as the only one who did not stand. What did he believe?

Lincoln replied that he had been invited to share in a service, he did not expect to be singled out about his beliefs—but it was his belief that he was going to Congress!

Indeed, by a vote of some 6,000 to 4,000, he defeated Cartwright and went to Congress.

Six years later the stakes in national elections were higher. Immigration and race were on the ballot. A secret political movement called the Order of the Star Spangled Banner was formed, later called the Know Nothing Party. They wanted to make it harder for immigrants to become naturalized citizens, and they were for the extension of race-slavery if states wanted it. A minister from Maine, Owen Lovejoy, organized a new political party called the Republican Party, out in Illinois.

At that time Lincoln had a chance to run for the US Senate in the election of 1854. He was on fire about slavery and the Constitution. The other party, called the Democrats, favored allowing the extension of slavery. Southern Democrats wanted it. Northern Democrats thought that the railroads and money would come north if the states opened up into what was called the Kansas and Nebraska Territories.

Lincoln was also fired up because, all across the North, people were being elected to office who wanted to stop the extension of slavery. These people wanted to stop Stephen Douglas, the Democrat, Lincoln’s longtime rival, who was spearheading the drive to open up more slave states if the new states wanted it. Bloody local civil wars already were breaking out in territories where slave and free settlers fought.

Senators were elected by the Illinois Legislature and Lincoln lobbied hard to get them to make him the next US Senator, as a Whig. Lincoln was three votes short on the first ballot. Each ballot after that, pro-slavery forces lobbied and made deals and shifted the votes to the Democrats. Lincoln was losing his bid, and also losing the chance to have a new US Senator who would be against more slavery.

There was one man, a Democrat, who was not like the others. He was not for the extension of slavery.
Lincoln’s problem, of course, was that as a Democrat this man was in the wrong party. Lincoln had worked tirelessly for years to build up the Whig Party, to defeat the Jackson Democrats, in Illinois and across America.

So this new one man, named Lyman Trumbull, had the right ideas, but, for Lincoln, was in the wrong party. Nevertheless, on the 10th ballot Lincoln told his managers to have his core remaining supporters vote for this Democrat.

He was willing to lose in order to further the cause of anti-slavery.

At a reception feting the new Democratic Senator Trumbull, the hostess said to Lincoln, “I know how disappointed you must be.” Lincoln spying the new Senator, smiled and moved forward and said, shaking his hand, “Not too disappointed to congratulate my friend Trumbull.”

In response to this gallant, true, hand-reaching across, those Democrats pledged that in the next election they would support Lincoln, and they did, for President.

Lincoln’s responses to rivals and potential new allies set examples that can light us down through the ages.

This is Duncan Newcomer, and this has been Quiet Fire, the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln.

 

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Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.

 

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Duncan Newcomer’s Abraham Lincoln Quiet Fire—In three words, he said it: ‘We are elected.’

This entry is part 29 of 33 in the series Duncan Newcomer's Quiet Fire

If you’ve visited Springfield, Illinois, you may have a photo of this popular statue with family members joining this Lincoln family scene. There are countless snapshots of this tableaux on social media.

By DUNCAN NEWCOMER
Host of the ‘Quiet Fire’ series

This is Quiet Fire, a reflection on the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln and its relevance to us today. Welcome. Here’s a Lincoln quote for you:

“Mary, Mary, we are elected.”

It’s the first Tuesday night in November of the year 1860 and the telegraph office in Springfield, Illinois, has received the results of the vote from the state of New York. Abraham Lincoln is assured of winning his election to the Presidency.

A little before two o’clock in the morning Lincoln walks home. One historian (Ronald C. White) records it this way: “By everyone’s remembrance, Lincoln remained remarkably calm through the long evening. He did exclaim that he was ‘a very happy man’ (But then) … as church bells rang, and cheers exploded, Lincoln finally headed for home. ‘Mary, Mary, we are elected.’ ”

What are we to make of this?

He remained remarkably calm, and his first personal words about this momentous event are to his wife, as he gets back home, and calls out in the first person plural pronoun: “We.”

Mary, Mary, we are elected.

If there was ever a time to focus on oneself—one’s own ego—this win would be it. But—and this is why we keep looking at the spiritual life of Lincoln—this is not for him a First Person Singular moment.

Nor should it have been. Mary was a passionate politician. She believed in politics, had been around it all her life, believed in Lincoln’s skills more than he did, and she knowledgeably and personally companioned him in his work all his adult life. Theirs was an unusual 19th-century marriage in many ways.

Because he was personally calm he could be aware of the relationships he was in, including, most significantly, with his wife Mary. So it is, “We are elected.”

Clam in the midst of storm is a hallmark of a spiritual person. The stories of such spiritual calm are endless in spiritual literature. Jesus in the storm-tossed boat with his disciples is just one. Joan of Arc before the flaming stake another.

There is only one reason for this poise and composure, and the storm-tossed person has an even keel, they are balanced by something else. And it holds them.

This is not magic. It is simply that the person thinks about something else, some other, more than about oneself. The even keel of spiritual life is to center yourself on something larger than yourself.

This is Lincoln as a spiritual person. He shows this again and again. Especially we see it in his elections. Historians record that he again and again lets go of himself.

We can see this in his first election and his last election. Lincoln lost his first election and up until the last months he was sure he would lose his last election for a second term.

So, first, there he is at the age of 23, the wrestling champion of his new home town New Salem, Illinois, where he can crow “I’m the big buck of this lick.”

Two of the smartest men in town have asked him to run for the state legislature. They all hope he can win some improvements in their local river, the Sangamon, so that steam boats can come upstream and make a real town out of New Salem. He agrees to run. He writes a campaign flier. And this is what he says: if I should not win this election, “I am too familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined.”

How about that! Hi folks. I’m running for office. But if I don’t win, well, hey, I am real familiar with disappointment, so no chagrin here.

He adds: I am running for the state house with my only object being “that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.”

How about that too?! I want you to hold me in esteem and to know that I want to act in a way that makes me worth your esteem. This is not a selfish man. This is a man rooted in larger mutual relationships.

So Lincoln is a truly humble person. He cannot help but think of himself as a humble person and from that flier on to the election of 1864 he refers to himself 35 times as humble Abraham Lincoln. He’s not making this up.
But at one of his election rallies a fight broke out and he stepped into the crowd and, at six feet four inches and then 214 pounds, picked up the culprit that started it and reportedly threw him 12 feet away.

Lincoln lost that election. Country-wide he lost. But in his little town of New Salem, where he most cherish his esteem, he won 277 votes out of 300. That’s a 99% approval rating. He said it was the only election where he was beaten by the direct vote of the people.

But in August of 1864, the country was in the midst of a Civil War and he was sure he would not be reelected. He wanted to be. He said quite plainly, “I desire to be re-elected” But he wrote a letter to the man whom he thought he would lose to. Told him how he would help him try to save the country between the election and the new Inauguration. Sealed the letter. Had all his cabinet sign the back of it to certify it, and put it in his drawer.

His opponent was the infamous general who wouldn’t fight, George McClellan. Lincoln was willing to go through with the election win or lose. Saying this “I know not the power or right to resist them. It is their business, and they must do as they please with their own.”

The election was the people’s right. It belonged to the people not to the President. We must have the election, he said. He would not postpone or cancel it. He proclaimed: “We cannot have a free government without elections.” If the rebellion can postpone this national election he said they might as well have claimed to conquer and ruin us. There were multiple levers of power he could have used to move the election to his favor and he did not. That’s that spiritually humble thing again.

And as his wife Mary said, He was “almost monomanic on the subject of honesty.”

Lincoln won, of course. At the War Office when he received the news that he had won, and by a land slide, every state but three, he said, there is Mary back at the White House and, quote, “She is more anxious than I” and so he left to go back, and indeed, once again thought in terms of “we”—we, himself and Mary; we, his political party; we, the nation; we, the people.

We know how he felt, not just about her, but about us. We have won. We have won.

That is a humble and communal spirit that lights him and can light us, down in honor, to the latest generation.

This is Duncan Newcomer, and this has been Quiet Fire, the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln.

 

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Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.

 

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Duncan Newcomer’s Abraham Lincoln Quiet Fire—Now, we’re all hoping for ‘Yonder’

This entry is part 28 of 33 in the series Duncan Newcomer's Quiet Fire

By DUNCAN NEWCOMER
Host of the ‘Quiet Fire’ series

This is Quiet Fire, a reflection on the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln and its relevance to us today. Welcome.

I have a Lincoln quote for you from The Prairie Years, the opening of poet Carl Sandburg’s multi-volume, Pulitzer-Prize-winning reflection on Lincoln’s life. This is how Sandburg described the spiritual foundations of Nancy Hanks, Lincoln’s “Sweet Angel Mother”—

It could be that she was sad with sorrows like dark stars in blue mist, with hopes burned deep in her that beyond the everyday struggles, the babble and gabble of today, there might be what her brightest dreams told her. She read their Bible. One who knew her said she was a “ready reader.” She was a believer and knew—so much of what she believed was yonder—always yonder. Every day came cooking, keeping the fire going, scrubbing, washing, patching, with little time to think or sing of the glory she believed in—always yonder.

Certainly Nancy Hanks—who died when her son was only 9—was shaped by the revivals that swept west across America in the beginning of the 1800s. Some called this wave another Great Awakening, some felt it was the very Kingdom of God in America. As Sandburg tells the story, the perpetually overworked Nancy Hanks simply thought of it as a faith in “yonder.”

Yonder is a spiritual word whose time has come again. It is a word like other spiritual nouns—like bliss, grace, enlightenment, beatitude. These words are almost verbs because they carry such life, words that as nouns hardly cover the state of being that they refer to. They can be adjectives and adverbs.

Yonder is a mix of vision—horizons—like the prairie lands that stretch out to the edge of the sky, like the ocean of land that the prairie is, and wonder. In the mix of vision and wonder, Yonder becomes an envisioned and visionary place.

Remember Carol King’s “way over yonder”?

A way over yonder
Is a place I have seen
In a garden of wisdom
From some long ago dream

Yonder is a feeling, a wonder, like the story-book awe that greets the little animals at the edge of the riverbanks under the Wind in the Willows, when morning light comes and the sound of the flute of the great God Pan floats over their little ears. Yonder is like that awe. A natural holiness.

Yonder is when the hopes of a people are believed in so much they go beyond themselves to achieve what is then called glory.

Do you remember that word, “glory,” at the close of Sandburg’s passage? He admits that Hanks’ real aim was “the glory she believed in—always yonder.”

That’s the meaning in title of the 1989 film Glory about the Black soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th regiment who tried to take South Carolina’s Fort Wagner—in an even larger battle to prove that Black lives matter.

So glory is that place where politics and the real struggles of people mixes with values and vision.

That is the vision involving the spirit of yonder that Lincoln grew up with, and never lost.

This is Quiet Fire, the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln.

 

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Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.

 

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Duncan Newcomer’s Abraham Lincoln Quiet Fire—Here’s to you Mrs. Robinson!

This entry is part 27 of 33 in the series Duncan Newcomer's Quiet Fire

By DUNCAN NEWCOMER
Host of the ‘Quiet Fire’ series

This is Quiet Fire, a reflection on the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln and its relevance to us today. Welcome.

This week’s quote is: “At present we are told that America is being made great again, but specifics are hard to come by. It is true that, compared with the America of memory, little has been done recently to demonstrate modest foresight, let alone grand vision.”

Marilynne Robinson

No, that’s not Lincoln reflecting on the challenges of his turbulently divided America. Those are the words of Christian novelist Marilynne Robinson in the Opinion pages of The New York Times this week. Her lengthy essay was headlined: Don’t Give Up on America. This country is not just an idea. It’s a family.

Lincoln might well have smiled and nodded at such a thought. Spending time with Lincoln becomes a relationship. When we think about the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln—soon, we begin to have a spiritual life with Abraham Lincoln. That is one reason historians don’t write very much about the spiritual life of Lincoln, because it takes them out of the library and into the temple.

Lincoln inspires parents to give their daughters or sons tokens of their own deep interest in Lincoln—perhaps family photos of trips to Springfield, framed old copies of the Gettysburg Address, things like that. This often really happens.

In her Times column, Mrs. Robinson never specifically mentions Lincoln. But her challenge in that piece—and our challenge as well—is much like the awesome task that faced Lincoln and the generations around him: What to do with America?

Mrs. Robinson—whose most famous novel is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gileadsaid in her Times piece that America is more than an idea, it is a family.

Lincoln was deeply drawn to America as an idea. Lincoln was as much an intellectual as he was a politician. But he makes an everlasting blend of the idea of America and the social and political life of America. He re-coins the words “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

America to Lincoln was an idea he hoped people would embrace nationwide. “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty….we must think a new, we must act anew.”

The Civil War was about the idea of America, and particularly the unfinished idea of all people being equal. It was a growing family, a unique social experiment, a human proposition.

Not long into the war Union soldiers began to refer to President Lincoln as Father Abraham. Lincoln was an Old Soul even as a boy. He had gravity. It was in the nature of his spirit to be grave, serious, profound, sorrowful.

Of course he also had a way of being forever young. As a father, he could not control his own children. He could barely control his own rollicking jokester humor. He nearly made a romantic mess of his life when he youthfully crashed into the world of women, Eros and love. His favorite poets were the big bad boys Lord Byron and Bobbie Burns. The Bible and Shakespeare barely kept a lid on Lincoln.

Lincoln as Father Abraham brings us into the family of America that he helped conceive, bring forth and offer a new birth of freedom.

Lincoln as an intellectual brings new meaning to the idea of America as much as Lincoln fathers a newly born America.

He was and is a Father Figure to the American Family in the same tragic way that fathers are in the plays of Shakespeare trying to govern a human family of near-impossible variety. Father figures in Shakespeare are flawed characters who have the full range of human angels and devils within them. They meet fates like, Lincoln’s own, tragic, and yet his with ongoing, nearly eternal inspiration for us, the witnessing family.

Shakespeare as the author plays the same role as God does in the Bible, the Father progenitor who survives his own creations. Even in the Bible the God-man Jesus has a tragic encounter with the human family before his love and spirit take over.

Mrs. Robinson is right to move our relationship with America, as did Lincoln himself, from just an idea to a relationship. Of course ideas, and the Idea of America, seem much more orderly than the Family of America. We know about family life, the tribal wars, the sibling rivalries, the divorces.

Lincoln experienced this first hand. Robert E. Lee decided to betray his oath as a soldier in the American Army and went back to the family home to fight for his tribe—to fight, as he said, for Virginia. The tribe of Virginia, or even the idea of Virginia, to him, had more of a draw than the idea of America. He simply was not the intellectual or moral thinker that Lincoln was.

Perhaps, when we think about the spiritual life of Lincoln, as it begins to have an effect on our own spiritual life, we see that his idea was that democracy was for the world. It was not just for America.

To this day, people around the world still look to Lincoln.

Father Abraham is the kind of figure who tells us, as he said, not only to think anew but to act anew, so that we can, as he did, save our country.

This is Quiet Fire, the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln.

 

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Care to Enjoy More Lincoln Right Now?

GET A COPY of Duncan’s 30 Days with Abraham Lincoln—Quiet Fire.

Each of the 30 stories in this book includes a link to listen to the original radio broadcasts. The book is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle versions. ALSO, you can order hardcover and paperback from Barnes & Noble. In addition, our own publishing house offers these bookstore links to order hardcovers as well as paperbacks directly from our supplier.

 

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