Updated: May 26, 2020
I just finished this painting,"Liberty and Justice For All."
It has been a visual prayer for America as I've created it.
I feel the timing is right for America to be reminded of its roots.
In honor of Memorial Day and Ascension Day, I've just made prints, greeting cards and other gift items available.
I've written more about the painting below here, where you can learn more about the inspiration behind it, as well as the history of Memorial Day and Ascension Day.
Click here to purchase a print of this painting.
Liberty and Justice For All. By Alison Shepard
Memorial Day is a uniquely American holiday. Since 1971, Memorial Day has been observed on the last Monday of the month. But did you know its origins go back over 150 years to the Civil War? It was originally called Decoration Day. After the Civil War ended, Americans all over the country began holding springtime ceremonies at the graves of the fallen soldiers. They decorated their graves with flowers and honored their lives through prayer and remembrance of their sacrifice.
The Civil War was one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. history, claiming more lives than any other war. So many lives were lost in fact, that on July 17th, 1862 before the war ended, congress passed an act that gave the government authority to create military burial places. There are now 147 cemeteries that are a part of the United States National Cemetery System.
Today, we often look forward to Memorial day as a three day weekend, a day off work. Sometimes there are parades, and parties. Sometimes there are ceremonies for the military who gave their lives at many of the 147 National Cemeteries. And sometimes, we think back to the tragedy of 9/11. Many of us use Memorial Day as a time of reflection for our own loved ones who have passed on, going to their graves with fresh flowers. As someone who recently lost a loved one, every day is a painful reminder that he isn't here. There are many people this Memorial Day who will be thinking about the lives lost to this recent plague, covid-19, and the grief will be fresh. We will all at some point this weekend be reflective, and perhaps a little more grateful for what has been good and beautiful about life. All of this is wonderful; it is right and good to celebrate life, and to honor the memories of the ones we've lost.
But it is unfortunate that our awareness of the history of Memorial Day seems to have been buried along with the dead. It would also be right and good to consider the origins of what led to the need for this national holiday: the bloodiest battle in our country's history, The Civil War.
The Battle of Nashville. By Howard Pyle.
In light of recent events, and how much division there is in our country, I believe we must take a sober look at history and consider some of the moral imperatives that led to this battle, namely, the freeing of slaves. I am not writing this as an argument over the left or the right, democrat or republican. I am writing this as a call to simply reflect on the freedoms that have made America such a unique nation. Brave soldiers fought for these freedoms, they were paid for with blood. As we think upon their sacrifice, let us not take our freedoms for granted. We owe it to these brave soldiers as well as to ourselves and our children to preserve these freedoms, while also respecting the health and well-being of one another.
Crossing The Underground Railroad. By Charles Weber.
I started this painting of the American flag last year before my dad died. It is of a flag in the park near my home. I was in a time of deep contemplation over the transience of life; how fleeting it is, and how important it is to be grateful and to not miss all that is good and beautiful in my everyday world.
Since the lock down of covid-19, many of us have sought refuge in parks such as this one. Parks have become sanctuaries of beauty, rest, an escape from the barrage of news and the fear we have battled with during this quarantine.
It has been during this time of quarantine, that I picked my brushes back up again, and decided to finish this painting. Many days as I worked on it, I found myself praying for our country, praying for healing in the bodies and souls of Americans. I had finished painting the flag before the trees, and so I would often stop painting, put my finger on the flag, and pray for our country. As I did this, I could feel why the flag is such a powerful emblem for the American ideals of freedom, the ideals that founded this country.
The founding fathers birthed America out of an impassioned desire for freedom from tyranny. Just before the Declaration of Independence was written, Patrick Henry exclaimed these words: "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" (It is interesting to note that during the Revolutionary War, the colonies were hit with epidemics. From 1775-1783, Small Pox, Diphtheria, Measles, Scarlet Fever hit New England, New York and Pennsylvania, and influenza swept through all 13 colonies.)
The Fight on Lexington Concord April 19th, 1775. By Howard Pyle
The words of the Declaration of Independence were brilliant in setting forth a plum line of ideals for America: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Americans believed these truths so strongly that they laid down their lives for it, and ultimately for us. We are reaping the benefits of what early Americans sowed in tears and death.
Unfortunately, America did not live up to this plum line when it came to the treatment of blacks and women and children. We therefore needed the Civil War, Women’s Suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement. This Memorial Day, I am honestly asking myself, what else do we need to learn from history so that it does not repeat itself?
Map depicting areas of secession during the Civil War.
The symbolism of the flag is interesting to contemplate. The stripes are for the 13 colonies and the stars for the 50 states. But what really fascinates me is that the square where the stars are is called the union. We are living in a time where the union is under siege. There is a civil war that doesn't involve guns but is rather a war of words. We are seeing the painful truth of how the pen is mightier than the sword. We are also seeing people’s rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness under siege. "Siege warfare is a form of constant, low-intensity conflict characterized by one party holding a strong, static, defensive position." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege
During this quarantine, this civil war of words in America has become more inflamed.
As I laid my hand upon the flag in my painting to pray, I have asked God for His truth and His mercy. I have also asked for the words of the pledge of allegiance to come to pass, that we would be one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
It is prophetic timing that I would finish the painting during this quarantine. Did you know that the word quarantine comes from the Italian words quaranta giorni, which means 40 days? You see, not only is it going to be Memorial Day Monday, but this is also the week where we celebrate Christ's Ascension. After His resurrection, Christ appeared to the disciples for 40 days and talked to them about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). He told them that they would soon be baptized with the Holy Spirit. He told them they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came, and that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8) Then, at the end of the 40 days, He ascended into heaven.
Christ Ascending into Heaven. By William Brassey Hole.
Not long after Christ's ascension, the day of Pentecost came, and suddenly a sound from heaven came like a "violent tempest blast" and filled the whole house where the disciples were gathered. This was the baptism of the Holy Spirit Christ had promised them, and it empowered them to go forth and spread the gospel and show many signs and wonders in Jesus's name.
Descent of the Holy Spirit. By Peter Paul Reubens
As we approach this Pentecost, I am believing for a miraculous move of God that will transform Christians in America and all over the world. When we consider the division in our nation and in our American churches, let us remember that Memorial Day is a result of the Civil War. And as the Holy Spirit gives us new blueprints for a new era, let us pray we will be known by our love for one another. It is our unity and love for one another that will be the most effective springboard for spreading the gospel and maturing into the fullness of Christ. And I believe it is our humble prayers and our love that can help to heal America from this civil war.
"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Click here to purchase a print of this painting.
"While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free, Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer."
God Bless America, Land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her Through the night with a light from above. From the mountains, to the prairies, To the oceans, white with foam God bless America, My home sweet home."