A Meditation: Lifting Every Voice

Yesterday, something happened in worship that continues to amaze me, fill me, challenge me…

We sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as hymn every Sunday during Black History Month. Of course, we sing this hymn all throughout the year, but something happens when we lift our voices as a congregation to sing it as a hymn unto God. The tune, though powerful, is often difficult. But lifting our voices in the hymn, the melody and harmonies seem to flow effortlessly.

I was very glad that there were a couple thousand or so other voices singing so powerfully yesterday morning, because by the second verse of this great hymn, my voice faltered. I worked very hard to hold back the tears, but they came anyway. I choked and all I could do was to whisper the words unto God…

Verse 2 begins…

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod
felt in the days when hope unborn had died.
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet
come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come treading a path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out from the gloomy past til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

I wonder if James and Rosamond Johnson had any idea when they wrote this hymn that in 2008 African Americans would still be navigating stony roads made even stonier by our own complicity in our oppression? I wonder if they had any idea that the chastening rod would now be turned full force in our faces onto our children who are abused, neglected, forgotten and jailed?

The prophetic voice of the Johnsons is heard in the third verse of this hymn:

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way.
Thou who has by thy might led us into the light —
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee.
Lest our heart, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.
Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand,
true to our God, true to our native land.

When God meets us, God changes us. God blesses, delivers, transforms — that is the ground upon which God stands. We have strayed from the ground, distorting the meaning of blessing to construe financial rewards; distorting the meaning of deliverance to mean personal deliverance only; distorting the meaning of transformation to mean “I’m transformed and I don’t need to reach to bring someone else along, I don’t need to dig deeper, to be thankful, to be a disciple….I’m transformed and I’m out!”

Today, my prayer is that we will recover from the hangover that comes with consuming the wine of the world — capitalism, monetizing relationships, power struggles…all wine.

When you are drunk – you don’t remember the mothers and fathers, grandmothers and great-grandparents who walked stony roads for us….

When you are drunk — you think that BET is a history channel that accurately portrays Black Culture.

When you are drunk — you think that your children don’t need you to be their parents, forever. And you think that you have no responsibility to children who are not yours by birth.

My prayer is that we will desire healing from the addiction to the world’s cheap wine.

That God will again shade us under the power of God’s hand.


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About avoiceinramah

Following The Way. Wife, Mom, Pastor, RevSisterGirlfriend, Advocate. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman. I believe another world is possible.