The subtle spirituality of flags
When I was a child I had a record called “I Love the Flag”. It was one of those plastic childrens’ records that had designs on them. In this case the record was a striking picture of the American flag unfurled and flapping energetically in the wind. I still remember the lyrics: “I love the flag, I love the flag, the old red, white, and blue.” I would often sing the song to myself when the record was not playing and apparently it is still dwelling in a corner of my psyche ready to impose its cultural will on me by sneaking up unawares.
Flags are very much on our minds these days both with the Fourth of July just passed and of course the dramatic lowering of the Confederate flag at South Carolina’s State House. While flags do not actually stand for anything physical, the Mississippi River is after all a river not an American river, they do evoke strong emotions of love, anger or even hate.
Spiritually, the flag is linked to our ego selves. Have you ever noticed that people who wear sporting attire to display their loyalty to a particular team will often reject their local team in favor of whichever team just won the championship. It’s because wearing the clothing of the champions somehow massages their egos by associating them with success or more subtly they think others will associate them with success. Similarly, the flag of any nation links the citizen with the alleged glory of whatever accomplishments that society has had. When you live in a nation like the United States, which has long viewed itself as head and shoulders above the rest, the heart swells with pride but the ego also swells . Somehow I am part of something that’s better than all the rest. This is not to deny all that is good and wonderful about the USA but it is to acknowledge the shadow side.
A flag can draw out sentiments as the color of our skin does. If I have been told from my youth that white skin is somehow superior, then I will not readily accept equality of the races because it threatens that good feeling I have had engendered in me the one that reassures me not only of my goodness but of my “better-ness”.
Our religion can maintain the same illusion not only if I have been trained to view it as the one and only true religion but also simply because it is mine. Spiritual growth is about shedding baggage not adding to it. As a person grows in awareness, phenomena associated with one’s tribe lose their energy. What matters is not what religion you are but how much love you display. Beyond that, what matters to me is not how much love you display but how much love I myself display.
When it comes to the American flag, what matters is not whether you wear a flag lapel pin but whether you embody the ideals of equality, rooted in love that the flag represents. Here is where we can go off the tracks as citizens. Sometimes the flag is displayed with a certain anger or defiance. This is when it is most identified with the ego fears of the one displaying it.
Those who are spiritually mature step back and consider themselves members not of a nation first, not of a religion first, not of their skin color first, but of the human race and in fact of all that is.
(Bill O’Brien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org ).