The Sound of Silence

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Image Credit: Andrew Alexander, Unsplash

There’s a lot going on in the world right now so I sit here wondering what to write to you, bathed in solitude and fishing for a thought. Let the noisy silence of second hands and chirping birds lend me the inspiration needed to write. Let the calm of the rain suicide its face onto my windowsill, onto shingled rooftops, ripping puddles or perhaps it’ll just melt itself into the concrete. Have you ever just sat back and listened to silence? It is hypocritically noisy. I can hear the laughter of locust and the singing of birds as they intercourse themselves into the wind. This noisy wind. It whistles and shouts and spreads its hum across the troposphere just silent enough for us not to notice amidst the growling of car engines and groaning of electricity. If you listen closely enough you’ll hear angels sing. The language of angels is in the wind. Give me not the physical right now. Not the booming lyric of music, or the chatter of distraction. Give me focus and attention so I may snag a thought from the roaring voices of spirit and of memory hanging from the pictures on my wall. We are familiar with the sound of noise, but not the noise of silence. Not the tickle of an idea brushing past our thoughts or the seductive wooing of trees to wind. The giggling fabric against the windowsill. The peaceful lullabies of daylight. Indeed, nature has its way of suckering us out of quiet, but what a wonderful stillness.

Spirit Words

 

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Stretch your thoughts forward with much care. Hold them in your mind with the fragility of a newborn’s bones and then unfold them from your tongue like ancient scrolls . Let them drip oxygen on the page so that you leave the post just as pure as it was before your spirit left it’s imprint in our souls. Let your words stain peace that I may inhale joy that cuts through bone and marrow. For sticks and stones may break bones but deadly is the venom of a tasteless word. How dull is the stare of a ball pointed pen bleeding empty? Who knew words were spiritual; the invisible breath of life to nostril. There is nothing more powerful than a righteous tone with angels wings let loose in its time. Pen to paper or voice to air. Choose your spirit words carefully. It wouldn’t make sense leaving trails of bodies hanging on top blog post walls.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Negro Spirituals

Welcome Back to Black History Fun Fact Friday. Today we’re talking about Negro Spirituals.

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“Go down Moses
Way down in Egypt’s land
Tell ole
Pharaoh
To let my people go!”

Negro Spiritual front 1638When you take someone and make them a slave, the first thing you must do is take away their identity. Starting with the removal of the name, you take away all traces of their former selves. You do not just remove a people from their environment, but you remove those things that influence that environment. The slave must have no connection to his former self least he realize he is a slave. If the slave realizes he is a slave, you will have a hard time keeping him in a perpetual state of captivity.

maxresdefaultDuring slavery in the United States, there were systematic efforts to strip the identity of the captive. As such slaves were forbidden from speaking their native tongue and generally converted to Christianity. When the so-called African was taken from the West coast of Africa, it was not a simple transition of country, to ship, to land, but he had to undergo an entire initiation process before stepping foot on the plantations of America. His name, being the most important, was taken from him, his way of life stripped from him, and his history book taken from him. In turn he was given the religion of his slave masters, and his new name reflected the name of their gods. He was made into a Negro.

Being unlawful for the Negro to read and to write, the Negro Spiritual becomes an intriguing study of its own. How did a people who were not allowed to read the bible sing songs with such deep spiritual concepts?

pickingcottonThe words of the earliest known Negro spirituals are taken directly from biblical scripture, are very much poetic, and can be considered in the truest form the literal Spoken Word. The passion in which these songs were sung most certainly adds to the rhythm, texture, melody, tempo, variation, and emotional depth of words. So much so that we must understand that the power in which these songs were sung did not come from a people who made stuff up along the cotton filled aisles of Mississippi and Alabama. These songs were sung with such power because of a people who lived them.

Wade in the Water
Wade in the Water children
Wade in the Water…
See that band all dressed in white….
The leader looks like that Israelite…
See the band all dressed in red…
Looks like the band that Moses led…

MosesIf one was to study the Physical Appearance of the ancient Israelites one will see that they were a dark skinned people. Moses, Abraham, The Prophets and even the Messiah, would have looked like your typical Negro had they walked the earth today. Wade in the Water is a very revealing song, and for this reason it has been revised over and over again. But the original song is a very revealing one. It even compares the captivity of the Israelites to the Captivity of the African who has been brought to a new Egypt, only this time in ships.

runaway-slaves-on-underground-railroadBut the Negro Spiritual did more than reveal factual information that talked about the Old Testament; it was also a way of communication for the slaves who could not otherwise communicate under normal circumstances. Wade in the water was one of those songs that gave hint to the runaway to go into the water when he is being chased. He goes into the water because the dogs will lose track of his scent. Therefore, if he is being hunted down he is being told to “Wade in the Water”.

The same is true for “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, which was also a song of dual meaning:

“I looked over Jordan,
And what did I see,
Comin for to carry me home
A band of angels comin after me
Coming for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin forth to carry me home;
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin forth to carry me home

Swing Low Sweet Chariot is a very powerful song. It is not a song about dying and going neither to heaven, but this song could only be sung by people who knew what they were talking about, and who had great biblical understanding. In brief, we see that it echoes the lyric of Revelations which talks about the New Jerusalem coming down like a bride adorned for her husband (‘looked over Jordan’ what’s over Jordan? Israel is over Jordan) and about the messiah coming down with his bands of angels in a chariot.

On the other hand, Swing Low was also a song about The Underground Railroad. Swing low, Sweet Chariot also refers to Ripley, a “station” of the underground railroad where fugitive slaves were welcomed. But this town was on a hill by Ohio River, which is not easy to cross. So, to teach this place, fugitives had to wait for help coming from the hill. “Swing low, sweet chariot.

“Halleluyah I’m a travelin

Halleluyah ain’t it fine?

Halleluyah I’m a travelin

down freedom’s main line”

– 1961 Freedom Song

Negro Spirituals did not stop at slavery, but for every movement of African American people, each was followed by a certain cultural theme. The times did not change without a change in tune, in clothing, in hair style, and in thought. From the plantations of chattel slavery to Jim Crow and Civil Rights, to Black Power and Revolution, every movement we have been or are a part of, has had its own unique sound that taught you something about the state of Black people during that time, about the movement and even how to move. Our music is therefore in a sense always an extension of The Negro Spiritual.

Thank you for stopping by for this week’s episode of Black History Fun Fact Friday. Here is last week’s episode in case you missed it:

Convict Leasing

Delilah’s Responsibility

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I wonder if it was a spiritual experience
wonder
if blades covered their eyes against the war to which you had grafted them
wonder
if angels had taken the time to whisper to strands of hair of their coming demise
I wonder if they saw laughter dancing in your eyes
and if they had prepared themselves
with breastplates
and helmets,
and knee pads,
if they held their hands up
wonder if the blade hesitated against the strength of the strands
that rubbed against each other
like
lovers
strands of hair that were intimately entwined
hair that made a covenant with the earth
hair
that had promised to protect him since birth
that clung onto one another
like Samson clung onto you
strands of hair that loved
like Samson loved you.
But I wonder if it was spiritual for you
Did you see them as Kings planted inside the throne of private follicles
and fighting battles there
or was it just
hair?
was it spiritual?
for you?
When you touched it,
did you shake hands with angels,
did truth shoot through your body like electricity,
did your fingers grow numb
Did you feel it?
Did your stomach back flip, turn your tears into rivers
Did your mind leave you
Did it purchase attorney’s to plead mercy on behalf of the war you had begun
the moment you looked into his eyes and said “I love you”
Did the spirit find you guilty of conspiracy
to commit the world’s greatest terrorist attack
or did the Philistines just want their money back
I wonder
if you noticed that at that moment your hands were weapons,
heavy and strong
locked and loaded
weapons of war and your heart were choir directors
and yall played
Oh so softly the music of deception,
you sung ballads on his scalp
And immersed his enemies in your lap
I imagine you had bullets beneath your cuticles
You see, I wonder what your life was like
But most of all,
I wonder about the events that lead up to your iniquity
I wonder
Dearest Delilah… about your responsibility.
Wonder if my brother saw righteousness on top freshly painted nails
I wonder if 7 dread locs are added to your scale
And I pray…
I’m not presented with such a responsibility
I wonder if foresight blessed you with the image of Judas
without his consequence
wonder if his betrayal was your inspiration
to get through this
wonder if you are our warning to learn from the past
so that the present’s truly
a gift.