Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation
African American Spirituality and Song
African American Spirituality and Song

African American Spirituality and Song: Weekly Summary

Saturday, February 13, 2021

African American Spirituality and Song

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Week Six Summary and Practice

Sunday, February 7—Friday, February 12, 2021

The legacy of the spirituals is worth our continued attention now, not only as “museum music” . . . but also as a broad-ranging cultural tradition that remains relevant to pressing present-day social realities. —Arthur C. Jones

Black sacred song has been at once a source and an expression of Black faith, spirituality and devotion. By song, our people have called the Spirit into our hearts, homes, churches, and communities. —Sister Thea Bowman

This is the contemplative moment, the recognition that each and every member of the congregation shares the same angst over the troubles of the world and the need for reunion. —Barbara Holmes

Whether you sang “freedom” during the sixties or the older traditional text with the word “Canaan,” in essence the song says, I must leave or change where I am, and I want you to go with me. —Bernice Johnson Reagon

Jeremiah is saying actually, “There must be a balm in Gilead; it cannot be that there is no balm in Gilead.” The relentless winnowing of his own bitter experience has laid bare his soul to the end that he is brought face to face with the very ground and core of his own faith. —Howard Thurman

When we see contemplatively, we know that we live in a fully sacramental universe, where everything is a pointer and an epiphany.


A Plea for Divine Presence

Although I am always urging people to adopt and practice contemplative, wordless, or apophatic prayer, I also believe in the power of cataphatic prayer, full of words and images that express the longings of our hearts. As many of you know, we at the Center pray daily for the many petitions that readers share with us vulnerably and in great trust. I believe God hears and understands the prayers both from the silence of our hearts and the words of our mouths. Today I share a poetic prayer full of inclusive compassion from the Reverend Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr.

Older than the morning stars that twinkled in the blackness of night’s first birth, the rotation of the axis of time, bring us into the freshness of your mercy and the newness of your presence. We come to you today with heartfelt gratitude, not with mixing Judas paint with Judas praise in order to cover our hypocrisy. Some of us come to you with triumph over tragedy. Others of us come with enduring pain suffered from shameful defeat in an inescapable battle of life. Some of us feel like going on and others of us feel like giving up. But to you we come just as we are. Whether we are winners or losers, we know that you love us one and all. Greatest of the Greatest, you know just how much we can bear. We all come to commune with you:

The tireless champion;
The tired loser;
The retired forgotten ones;
We all come to be consistently corrected and comforted by you.
We come counting our lost.
We come confronting our crises.
We come as citizens of cities controlled by crime.
We come chilled by the cold of cowardice.
Great God Almighty:
Commune with us conscience clean.
Caress us with the cradle of compassion.
Consecrate us with outrageous convictions.
Control us with Christlike concerns.
Great Physician Powerful:
Pardon us with the conscience of peace.
Place us in paths of productivity.

Practice the perfection of healing upon those who are physically, emotionally, or spiritually sick.

This is our humble plea, we present in the precious Name of the prince of peace, Jesus Christ, our priceless priest. Amen.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

J. Alfred Smith, Sr., “A Plea for Divine Presence (1989),” in Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans, ed. James Melvin Washington (HarperCollins: 1994), 257.

Image credit: Gjon Mili, Jamming at Gjon’s (detail), Photograph, copyright, used with permission.
Image Inspiration: Jazz is many things: it is dance music, counter-cultural and a great connector of people. May we hear the Sacred lovingly woven into tone color, rhythmic pattern and collaborative improvisation.
Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.