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The Many Facets of Symbolism in President Biden’s Inauguration Ceremony

From Biden’s speech to Gaga’s pin, Amanda Gorman’s ring to Garth Brooks' "Amazing Grace": how theology, art and fashion played a part in the celebration

Wednesday’s presidential inauguration certainly marked a new chapter in our nation’s history, and this new path upon which the nation has embarked began with how theology, art and fashion played an instrumental part in the celebration. In President Joe Biden’s inaugural speech, he repeatedly used the verb “to see”, and references to “light”. The same for the guest participants in the inaugural celebration of the 46th president of the United States of America. President Biden’s statement during his speech, underlined the effective “see each other”, was a manner of evoking respect, unity and accountability: History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity. We can see each other, not as adversaries, but as neighbors.”

 President Biden also referenced St. Augustine, a bold move, as he is only the second president in history to be a Roman Catholic:

“Many centuries ago, St. Augustin, a saint in my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love. Defined by the common objects of their love. What are the common objects we as Americans love, that define us as Americans? I think we know. Opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor and, yes, the truth.”

In citing St. Augustin, Biden not only referred to Christian values as the epicenter of his core values, but also made sure that dignity, respect, and truth were a part of his approach to mending a wounded United States.

The same was the approach that Amanda Gorman took in reciting her poem. Amanda Gorman’s poem, The Hill We Climb, with the beginning and the end not only referencing light, but more specifically, searching for it, seeing it:

“When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? […] For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.”

 And again, she speaks of “truth, faith, and eyes”, again correlating these to sight, to seeing:

 “In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.”

 In all of this, we certainly cannot forget Garth Brooks’ beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace, and here, yet again, we see and hear the reference to “seeing”, because how can you not comprehend the immense significance of the verse:

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I am found
Was blind, but now I see”

But the recurring phrases that included “to see” and “light” were not the only instances that were full of symbolism during the ceremony. Indeed, so were the carefully chosen jewelry and colors: Dr. Jill Biden’s blue ensemble signifying unity, serenity, stability, inspiration and wisdom, and Vice President Harris’ purple coat (as well as those of Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and others noted in news sources as “the wall of purple”) representing the mixing of the colors blue and red — those of the Democratic and Republican parties; a bold statement meant to call both parties to unity with the hope of reconciliation of two ideologies currently in the midst of political conflict.

Lady Gaga’s fashion ensemble included a gorgeous gold dove with an olive branch in its beak – both symbols of peace, and both referenced continuously in the Bible. In Christian iconography, a dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit- in reference to Matthew 3:16 and Luke 3:22 where the Holy Spirit is compared to a dove at the Baptism of Jesus, and it is also present in the symbolism of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – a clear nod to the pluralism and inclusiveness that the Biden administration has always espoused. The olive branch is first mentioned in Scripture when the dove returned to Noah’s ark carrying an olive branch in its beak (Gen. 8:11).

And what about the jewelry worn by Amanda Gorman – that beautiful, caged bird? It turns out that Oprah Winfrey wanted to gift Amanda Gorman a coat, as she did with Maya Angelou for Bill Clinton’s inauguration, when she recited On the Pulse of Morning at the ceremony, but Amanda Gorman had replied to Oprah that she already had a coat for the occasion, a yellow one, which is her favorite color. So, Oprah decided to gift Ms. Gorman something else – the pair of earrings that she wore, and a ring depicting a caged bird, in honor of Maya Angelou’s poem, Caged Bird, so that the tradition, for Oprah, could continue. However, the symbol is still more powerful because Maya Angelou wrote Caged Bird to represent not only the death of her friend, Martin Luther King, Jr. (whose holiday we just celebrated on January 18th), but also her own experience of confinement resulting from racism and oppression.

When we look back on the event that took place on Wednesday, let us look beyond the pomp and circumstance and let us breathe in and appreciate the words, the art and the colors that energized the beginning of a new hope.

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