After writing the post about being a stranger or sojourner on earth, this folk song came to mind. Not a surprise, since it’s based on the same passage in Psalm 119.
“I am a sojourner on the earth …” Psalm 119:19a
The origins of the song are a little murky. During and for several years after the Civil War, it was called the Libby Prison Hymn, because the words had been inscribed by a dying Union soldier incarcerated in Libby Prison, a notorious Confederate prison in Richmond, Virginia. It was said that the soldier composed the song, but this was not true — it had been published several years before the war began. There are many variations of this song, and it has been performed by many artists over the years, a testament to the universal appeal. At times we all feel a longing for our real, heavenly home.
A book I’ve been using recently mentioned an African-American spiritual called Fix Me, Jesus. Since I was unfamiliar with this song, I decided to look it up. I enjoyed listening to it, and hope you will, too.
My husband and I like country music, and we recently went to see the stage play, Always Patsy, which was based on the career of Patsy Cline. Every country singer worth their salt includes has some gospel music in their repertoire, and Patsy was not exception. At the performance we heard several, including Just a Closer Walk with Thee,How Great Thou Art, and the one I am going to share this morning — Come on In.
Although the Bible does not specifically say that we will be united with loved ones in heaven, it is implied in these verses from 1 Thessalonians:
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
This glorious reunion has often been imagined in spiritual songs and hymns. This is one that my husband loves, and I decided to share it this morning.
My husband and I recently watched a television series about the life of singer Aretha Franklin. She began her career singing gospel songs in her father’s church. Later in life her gospel album entitled Amazing Grace (this was a live album recorded over two days in January 1972, at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in South Los Angeles.)included the song, Climbing Higher Mountains. It reminded me that our walk with Jesus has a destination which is our true home — heaven.
For some reason this gospel song has been running through my mind lately, so I thought I would share. It was born out of the grief by Tommy Dorsey(not the band leader, but a jazz pianist) in 1932, following the tragic death of his wife and infant son. Here is his own account of how he wrote it:
“Back in 1932 I was 32 years old and a fairly new husband. My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago’s Southside. One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis, where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. I didn’t want to go. Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child. But a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis. . . .
“. . . In the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope. Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED. . . .
“When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that night, the baby died. I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket. Then I fell apart. For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve Him any more or write gospel songs. I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well. . .
“But still I was lost in grief. Everyone was kind to me, especially a friend, Professor Frye, who seemed to know what I needed. On the following Saturday evening he took me up to Malone’s Poro College, a neighborhood music school. It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows. I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys.”
The documentary I recently reviewed about the black church included samples of a variety of musical traditions, including gospel songs. One that I particularly like and remember is “Oh Happy Day.” It is a 1967 gospel arrangement of an 18th-century hymn originally written by clergyman Philip Doddridge.. Recorded by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, it became an international hit in 1969, reaching No. 4 on the US singles chart. It has been a gospel music standard ever since. Follow the link below to listen:
My husband and I recently watched this PBS documentary hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.. Gates, (born September 16, 1950), is a literary critic, scholar and filmmaker known for his pioneering theories of African literature and African American literature.
There are two two hour segments, and the film covers a lot of ground. It examines the development of the black church from plantation roots up to the present day. For the black community, church was the one place where members could express themselves honestly. It was an institution under the control of the members, and gave the black community the ability to work together, pool resources, practice their own traditions and exercise power. It promoted black education and the formation of black businesses. Church was at the center of community life, and therefore cannot be separated from the study of black history. The documentary touches on slavery, emancipation, the Civil War, Jim Crow, the Great Migration, the Civil Rights movement and more. It also traces the musical traditions of the black church from spirituals to hip-hop and rap. Gates interviews many scholars and ministers. Also included are clips of some of the political debates, musical traditions and important figures in different eras.
There is one failing my husband noticed. The film was critical of the conservative black church of today, and did not interview any conservative pastors. We would have preferred a more unbiased presentation.
VERDICT: 3 STARS. It was interesting, and a good look back at some important events that occurred during my own life. However, the unbalanced approach to present day churches made me question the integrity of the history presented as well.
The quote in my last post reminded me of this country gospel song, Wings of a Dove. It was written by Robert Bruce Ferguson in 1958. Two years later, pioneering country music entertainer in the 50’s, Ferlin Husky, took country music onto the pop chart with his recording of the song. It is based on the Biblical story Noah’s Ark, particularly the passage Genesis 8:6-12. After 40 days adrift on the flooded earth, Noah sent out a dove to find out if the water had dried up from the land. After a couple attempts, the dove returned with an olive leaf in its mouth, so Noah knew the water had begun to recede from the earth. The image of the dove carrying an olive branch became an enduring symbol of peace in Christian art.
In other areas of scripture, the dove also represents the Holy Spirit. Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22, and John 1:32-33 recount Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River. After Jesus prays, heaven opens and the Holy Spirit comes down in the form of a dove. The moment is linked to God the Father’s love as a voice from above says, “You are my Son, whom I love, and I am very pleased with you.
It’s a wonderful song to listen to during challenging times, a reminder that God is with us, and His plans for us will prevail.
My husband was researching various renditions of this famous gospel song today, because our organist played it (on the piano) recently. It was written in 1937 by Cleavant Derricks, who pastored a number of black, Baptist churches. Reverand Derricks composed over 300 hymns and was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1984. This one is probably his most well known and has been performed by numerous artists over the years, including Elvis Presley.
By the way, what is a prayer wheel? Does anyone out there know?