Experiencing Spirituals

On this Monday Meditation, I want to contemplate spirituals. It is Black History Month. It is important that we experience the powerfully transformative gifts of the black tradition. Spirituals is one of them!


This lovely history is from African American Spirituals: A National Treasure


From 1619 to 1865, enslaved African Americans created their own unique form of expression known today as African American Spirituals. As African Americans were not allowed to speak their native languages or play African instruments, African American Spirituals incorporated into the English language and the Christian religious faith.


Simply defined, African American Spirituals are the songs created and first sung by African Americans during the times of slavery. These songs are celebrated as a American National Treasure.  For they are the source for which gospel, jazz and blues evolved.


The lyrics of these songs are tightly linked with the lives of their authors who were inspired by the message of God and the gospel of the Bible. The most pervasive message conveyed by African American Spirituals is that of an enslaved people for yearning to be set free. The slaves believed they understood better than anyone what freedom truly meant in both a spiritual and a physical sense.


The Old Testament scriptures that are referenced in their songs spoke of deliverance in this world and they believed God would deliver them from bondage. These spirituals are different from hymns and psalms because the African American slave used them as a way of sharing the hard condition of being a slave while also singing about their love and faith in God.


The African American slave was forbidden to learn how to read and write. They had to find ways to communicate secretly. African American Spirituals were a medium for several layers of communication and meaning

African American Spirituals where the strong oral tradition of songs, stories proverbs and historical accounts. African American Spirituals have been apart of American culture from times of slavery to today and their legacy is clear in today’s gospel music. African American Spirituals where also sung during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s.  Songs that we are familiar with such as "We Shall Overcome" and "Marching Round Selma were heard in the south to united African American in the struggle for civil rights.


Some of the more commonly known songs including "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and "The Gospel Train", used language which described activities but had a second meaning relating to the underground railroad.


The lyrics used in African American Spirituals became a metaphor from freedom of slavery and they were a secret way for slaves to communicate with each other, teach there young, record there history and heal there pain.


Frederick Douglas a fugitive slave who became one of the United States leading abolitionist stated that African American Spirituals told a tale of woe which was all together beyond feeble comprehension and that every tone was a testimony against slavery and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains.


Experiencing a Spiritual:


Today, I invite you to find some spirituals on YouTube or Spotify.


Find a place where you can settle in for some quiet meditative time.


Play a spiritual.


When that spiritual is finished. What struck you? What stood out for you in the song?


Play it again.


When it has completed the second time, contemplate what God is offering in this song? What message is God inviting you to learn, hear, receive?


Play it one more time. Sing with it if you feel comfortable. Allow it to become your prayer.


Repeat this as many times as you need for it to fully be your prayer.


Sit in silence. Pay attention to how God received your prayer, to how God is holding your prayer, to how God is looking at you, to how God is responding to your prayer.


Sit with God. Sit with the beauty of this song. 


When you feel complete, thank God for spending time with you diving deeply into an African American Spiritual and bringing it to life in your faith.