This reflection was written on October 5, 2014
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
This afternoon we will present our 3rd annual “Spirituals Concert.” I certainly hope you are planning on attending, because it promises to be a wonderful and spiritually uplifting event. There is something about the Spirituals that grabs you and just gets under the skin. They strike at something deep down, even if you’re not African-American. One of my main reasons for first suggesting that we have an annual concert focused on the Spirituals was one of education. I not only wanted to educate a new generation to these powerful and historically important songs, but I was also hoping to educate the rest of us along the way.
The Spirituals are far more than just a collection of old songs that are an important part of our national, and even world, history. Learning about the hidden codes that lie beneath many of the songs is certainly interesting, but it also teaches us about the intellect, creativity and even humor of those who authored them, but most importantly, they teach us about their unwavering faith and undying hope in The Lord.
One of the things that has always intrigued me about African-American Christianity is that it exists at all. The enslaved had been tortured and oppressed in ways few of us could ever imagine. The slavers tried to de-humanize them in every possible way. Not only did the enslaved suffer and die, but they often had to watch their loved ones, their own children suffer and die, while they were utterly powerless to intervene. The slavers often tried to use a twisted and misinterpreted version of scripture to try and justify their sin. The enslaved were continually told that this was “the will of the christian god.” What amazes me is that they would want anything at all to do with the religion of their oppressors, especially the very UN-Christian version that was being preached at them.
Instead of completely ignoring it, and writing it off as the rantings and wishful thinking of an evil and heartless people, they did something totally unexpected…they turned that religion around and applied it to themselves! And if that is not evidence of the Spirit at work then I don’t know what is. They delved deeper into Scripture and discovered the Book of Exodus and saw in it a reflection of their own lives. They heard stories of a Savior who clearly stood on the side of the oppressed. And the truly amazing part, they put their hope and trust in this Christian God and believed that, not only was their enslavement not the will of God, but the true will of God would one day liberate them and set them free, just as He had done for the Hebrew enslaved.
The Spirituals help us see how an oppressed people took the very club, with which their enslavers were trying to use to beat them into submission, and used it as the rallying cry for a people who one day would be free. These songs help us understand how a people in a hopeless situation, still had hope. The Spirituals help us see how the enslaved took the words of Scripture and applied it to their own lives and situation. The Spirituals resound with words of trust and faithfulness in the midst of untold suffering, with words of joy in the midst of sorrow and sadness, with words of praise for the God they knew was on their side.
I certainly hope you had planned on attending the concert service, and if you had not planned on it, I pray you change your mind. Please don’t miss this truly inspirational service of these powerful songs of trials and trust, of fortitude and faith, of feelings of helplessness and hopefulness, and the faith that their lives of “Job” would one day be transformed into lives of joy.
In the Redeemer,