|Posted by St. Alban's Episcopal Church on February 24, 2021 at 9:50 AM|
February is celebrated as Black History Month in the United States. Many events in these last few years have led to renewed and, hopefully, meaningful discussions about the lives and experiences of African-Americans and other people of color in the United States. While there is much in America’s past and present for which we seek God’s forgiveness we live in the hope that the vision of God’s perfect kingdom will be realized. One in which we imperfect humans seek to see each other as God sees us: his creation in need of love, grace and understanding.
There are many sources available to learn about the history of the experiences of African-Americans in the U. S. I’ll leave the teaching of this history to the scholars but I did want to talk a little about a musical gift that came out of this painful history. African-American spirituals are a rich addition to American music. Their origins are in the “work” songs common in many cultures. These were songs sung while people went about their work. Sadly and understandably so, many of these songs became laments dealing with the lives and treatment of those who endured slavery. For those who converted to Christianity themes of hope and longing for home emerged. The hope of heaven, healing, redemption and longing for injustice to cease are the basis of the words in many of these songs. If you watched last Sunday’s service the Canticle I sang was “Deep River”. In this song crossing the Jordan river is a metaphor for crossing through death to a new life in heaven: “that promised land where all is peace”, as the song says it.
Other spirituals that have become beloved songs in the church are “There Is a Balm in Gilead”, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” On Sunday(3/7) the Canticle will be “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”. This spiritual speaks of a “pilgrim journey” like the one each of us takes each year through the season of Lent. It also speaks of longing for Christ to “walk with me” during life’s trials and troubles which, Thanks Be to God, he does. All thoughtful teachers (teachers, preachers, parents and, yes, even music directors) hope that what we share is meaningful and instructive for growth. Hopefully, empathy for others is a fruit that grows in our hearts when the deeply-felt and sometimes painful words of these songs are shared.