It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
I can hear that hymn droning out…
It drags…and it drags you up into the Rapture. It enables you to endure and to carry on. To find hope in situations that otherwise might break you…
It is well…it is well, with my soul!
But should it be?
In the Black Church we sing this hymn often. This is one that has universal appeal. It doesn’t matter which demon-nation you serve. Even the Black Episcopalians sing this one!
Negroes learned this hymn and love it. Mahalia Jackson belted it out as only she could. And when Sister Mahalia sings it…it done been sung!
What is well with our soul???
The suffering. Our condition as Black people. The oppression we have experienced.
It is well…it is well, with my soul!!!
But should it be??!?!
Written by Horatio Spafford in 1873, it was composed by Philip Bliss. Two white men. I’m not saying that White people cannot write a hymn worth singing by Black Christians. But I am saying it’s ironic that this hymn is one of those grafted into sacred Black Tradition.
For when the Israelites were brought to Freedom, in the wilderness “…the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron. The children of Israel said to them, ‘Would we had died, smitten by the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and ate bread to the full. For you brought us out into this desert to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’”
When interpreting the ingratitude of the Israelites in this passage from Exodus 16:2-3, St. John Cassian said: “Although this manner of speaking first referred to that people, nonetheless we see it now daily fulfilled in our life and profession. For everyone who has first renounced this world and then returns to his former pursuits and his erstwhile desires proclaims that in deed and in intention he is the same as they were, and he says, ‘It was well with me in Egypt.’” (emphasis mine)
In other words, St. John is saying that once we have renounced the world in which we find ourselves and then return ourselves to bondage, we have said what those Hebrews said in the wilderness: “It was well with me in Egypt.”
What’s worse is that we have done like those Hebrews wished to do…we have found it so incredibly well with us in Egypt, that we reconciled ourselves with bondage, fled the wilderness and returned to the Slave Quarters of our Egypt.
He continues: “Bodily renunciation and removal from Egypt, as it were, will be of no value to us, therefore, if we have been unable to obtain at the same time the renunciation of heart which is more sublime and more beneficial.”
We may have fled the Southern Plantations. We may have renounced chattle slavery. But that is of no value to us, if we have been unable to obtain the renunciation of our heart – at the same time. If we haven’t been able to renounce our love for the petit-pleasures of our oppression, bodily freedom would do us no good.
It is well…it is well, with my soul!
But should it be?!?!
Isn’t that the problem facing Black people in America? We have reconciled with the oppression…lulled ourselves to sleep with the songs of this strange land where strange fruit still grows?
I can hear the droning of that hymn. I can hear the elders wailing and see them swaying. Can’t you?
It’s been well…it’s still well, with our souls! Why they hell is that so?
That’s the search I’m embarking upon this week…rooted in Exodus 16:1-15, and continuing the journey we’ve been on together.
If you’re just catching this and don’t know what journey I’m referencing, you can find the beginning of this journey here. But we’ve been looking closely at the Mattering of Black Lives and what would make Black Lives Matter in this Country and within Western Society.
I’d love you to share your thoughts: why the hell is it well with our souls?