Updated: Jul 23
1 Peter 5:7
(NB: Over the past weeks I have been having trouble with my Graves disease, trying to get the meds right so I have used older blogs and updated them. I seem to be recovering and have increased energy so soon I will be doing new blogs. Thanks for bearing with me.)
Text: Anonymous Tune: Negro Spiritual
1. Nobody knows the trouble I've been through
Nobody knows but Jesus.
Nobody knows the trouble I've seen
2. Sometimes I'm up, sometimes I'm down
Oh, yes, Lord
Sometimes I'm almost to the ground
Oh, yes, Lord
3. Although you see me going 'long so
Oh, yes, Lord
I have my trials here below
Oh, yes, Lord
4. I never will forget that day
Oh, yes, Lord,
When Jesus took my sins away,
Negro Spiritual 1867
Some years ago a pastor friend of mine in Scandinavia noticed that every day about noon, a middle-aged woman entered the beautiful Baroque church sanctuary and sat there weeping. This went on for some time. One day, my friend went to her and asked if she could help. The woman looked up and pointed to the beautiful paintings of Jesus suffering. She noted, “I live a very successful and stressful life, and am expected to be cheerful all the time. Here is the only place I know where suffering is allowed.”
She named a truth we often forget about our faith. It knows suffering, in fact it is part of what it means to be human. Jesus went to the depths of hell for us and knows our sorrows.
Even in these times, our troubles can still be unspoken; even those closest to us,
may not know what is causing us to suffer. The spirituals express sorrows few of us
can imagine, but they give us words to express our own sorrows. This spiritual
speaks the truth and preaches the good news to us: Jesus knows all our troubles,
better than we do ourselves which is why the woman from the city is anointing Jesus' feet. He knows her sorrow.
Scripture (I Peter 5:6-11) says that we should cast all our cares upon him, because he cares for us. “Remain firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood through the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” Even as we know many are suffering, we live in hope for his glory. What glory that will be!
This spiritual was published in the book of spirituals printed in 1867. In 1871, the Fisk
Jubilee Singers, from Fisk University, in Nashville, began touring the country singing
spirituals plus other popular songs, some by Stephen Foster, to raise money for the
school. They did so at great cost, braving the racism of the day, but also bringing
these great treasures to light. Their efforts in teaching the spirituals gave them
notice and put them firmly in the American treasury of song.
By the turn of the 19th century, with the encouragement of Antonin Dvorak, African American composers like Henry Thacker (Harry) Burleigh (1866-1949), began setting them into songs that became what we would call art songs. Marian Anderson began her recording career with this song, among others. It became standard in the repertoires of singing groups around the world.
Scandinavians treasured spirituals as well and became passionate appreciators of
jazz. After WWII, African American jazz musicians performed there; some even made their homes in Norway or Sweden. The Deep River Boys recorded the spiritual in Oslo during a stay in Norway and Sweden during the 1950s.
Deep River Boys
Louis Armstrong 1962
While many of you know the song from recordings by Louie Armstrong or Mahalia
Jackson, and you can find a great variety on Youtube next to these links, I am sharing
a performance you may not know of, by Alice Babs, the Swedish soprano of the
twentieth century. Duke Ellington loved her voice and recorded with her on several
occasions for good reason.
For those planning for Bible study through the next year, you might consider the book Jesus the Harmony. It has a poem for every day of the year and bible references on each poem that put Jesus in what has been called "the red thread of salvation." Many have been using it for daily devotions; others in group Bible studies.