The Star-Spangled Banner Prayer

Do you ever think of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a prayer—and a question? The true story behind Francis Scott Key's poem that became our national anthem.

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The Stars and Stripes

Do you ever think of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a prayer?

Quite frankly I never had until a couple of years ago, as someone recounted the whole story of how the words were written by Francis Scott Key when he was in prison during the War of 1812 and was watching the battle, hoping for some sign of victory, for some glimpse of the flag still flying.

“O! Say can you see...?” he wrote. It’s a question followed by a question ending with a question: “O! Say does that star-spangled banner yet wave/O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

We never really sing it that way. At ballparks or high school gyms, when everybody’s got their hats off and hands on their hearts, we usually end the song with a shout or everybody clapping. We sing it like it ends with an exclamation point rather than a question mark. But the question mark is still there.

I can’t say that I raise my eyebrows like I’m asking a question when I sing it, but ever since I got that bit of wisdom, a little part of me thinks as I sing, “Are we doing our best? Is the flag still flying over the land of the free?”

To go back to Francis Scott Key, he was a little surer of the answer by the fourth stanza. Now I can’t imagine ever being in a gathering where all four stanzas of his poem are sung. It’s hard enough to sing just one. But before he ended the poem, he put in an exclamation point to a phrase you can find on any penny. Here it is, just for the record: “And this be our motto, ‘In God is our trust!’”

Amen to that.

Tags: Prayer
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