Negro Spirituals as subversive Christian practice


One of the things that deeply resonates with me about Emergent is the re-appropriation and appreciation of ancient Christian practices. Ancient Christian practices like lectio divina, pilgrimage, stations of the cross, etc.. I find these many practices of the Christian tradition very fascinating. I do a little lectio divina myself. But one practice I engage in is listening to old negro spirituals. Either I will listen to old recordings or simply sing them in my devotional time alone. I find them quite encouraging and they bring to my remembrance the closeness of God to my people as they were delivered from one of the worse forms of human oppression ever. Which brings to mind the importance of ‘memory’. Remembering is simply a matter of cognition or remembering. Singing these old songs remind me of Who’s world I live in and Who has the final say…not governments, not political pundits, not presidents, not multinational firms, not even absolutist forms of religion…but God. The God of surprise…the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not only negro spirituals but the Blues/Jazz and some R&B and hip-hop bring to my rememberance the God of my fathers and mothers. The other day I was thinking about John Coltrane’s, jazz saxophonist, classic “Love Supreme”. FYI, the album was dedicated to the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Coltrane’s song “Love Supreme” captures what theologian Robert Jenson says in words describing this God in his triology “Systematic Theology”. He says the words YHWH or I am who I am is better said, “I will be who you will discover me to be”. Such a God is captured in the Negro Spirituals and their sometimes wayward children R&B, Jazz, Blues, and hip-hop/rap.

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4 thoughts on “Negro Spirituals as subversive Christian practice

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  1. Thank you for this. Though I’m of anglo descent (with all the baggage that implies), so-called “negro” spirituals have always knocked me out. Paul Robeson’s singing started me off in that direction, and his politics (and tragic personal story) still inspire me today. Again, thanks. See my Blue Christian and mushgoo for a bit more on / from me.

  2. Anthony, I’m so glad to see your blog. Your voice and perspective is needed. Do you have any recommended recordings of spirituals? I’ve always incorporated hymnody and psalms and Coltrane and Miles and U2 and even Springsteen into my solitude. I’d really like to interact with this art and worship.

    –Zossima, http://www.forgettingourselves.com

  3. Zossima,

    Here is a recording that has some good stuff right here brutha! Jesus will grab you through the speakers!

    Wade In The Water (Smithsonian Folkways Series)

    Just do a search on Amazon. You’ll find it. This stuff captures the spiritual wrestling and struggle of black Christians as they stood in that eschatological tension between the present and coming age. It will move your soul.

  4. Hi postmodernegro, I’ve been searching around for Christianity related blogs to get some ideas and possibly trade links with. I found this entry
    (this post) in my search so I thought I’d post a quick note to let you know. Anyway I have a new “Christian” blog called Ugly Blog, so feel
    free to check it out but don’t feel obligated. Take care – Eric

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