These are the lyrics to one of the most recognizable Southern gospel songs and hymns “Yes God is Real.” Embodied in this song is an attempt to communicate a storied tradition. A tradition rooted in both personal and communal experience that expresses an assurance of the presence of God. How does one communicate the “realness” of God to others? Or a better question is how does ones story come alive through singing a song?
Before you’re tempted to raise a brow, grimace, or go off into deep theological reflection, I would like to suggest that music, as one internalizes the lyrics, and gives way to the intonations and rhythms not only evokes a emotive or physiological response, but it elicits and communicates ones innermost (experiential) truths.
This was evident in the Black Church Studies Fall Worship Service, spearheaded by Dr. Teresa Fry Brown, Professor of Homiletics and Director of Black Church Studies at Candler. God’s presence began to manifest itself in very distinctive ways as the body of people gathered- some familiar with the songs and rituals of the Black Church, while others were not- began to release their experiential truths into the atmosphere through the singing of hymns and spiritual songs.
I observed from the choir, Shouts of “hallelujah” and “amen”, raised hands, bodies swaying and stooped over, feet thumping, tears flowing, and above all an energetic communication of the “realness” of God within the soul of the community. The program was organized in such a way that we traveled through a virtual archive of the Black Church experiences, covering all from the traditional lining out of hymns, which is a form of call and response; an a capella hymn-singing in which a leader, gives each line of a hymn as it is to be sung, to contemporary praise and worship, communal prayer, and good ole preaching, which on this occasion was from the Baptist tradition. Despite ones cultural or denominational background, by the end of the service one was oriented to a day in life and worship in the Black Church.
Each round went higher and higher as students led us in worship and praise through word, reading, and song. The Voices of Imani, under the leadership of Erica Deloney, a second year MDIV student at Candler really personified their name and communicated the very essence of gospel through their fervent worship and melodious sound. They sang “For Every Mountain” and “The Lord is Blessing Me.”
The Reverend Dr. Marcus Cosby was the elect speaker for the occasion. Dr. Cosby is one of the most renowned and celebrated preachers in the Black Church. A graduate of Morehouse School of Religion at the Interdenominational Theological Center and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Illinois, Dr. Cosby was inducted into Martin Luther King Board of Preachers at Morehouse School of College. Dr. Cosby currently serves as the Senior Pastor of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, Texas.
Dr. Cosby preached a very timely word for the student body at Candler. He preached: “The Process of Progress.” Using Luke 5: 1-11 as a central text, Dr. Cosby exhorted us to continue to cast our nets into the deep waters despite failed attempts in the past. He provided three points of reflection that I will delineate below:
Ignore past failures: Be willing to acknowledge and own past failures, but don’t allow them to hinder your progress. Instead of being held hostage by the fear, shame, or humiliation of the past, one would do well to reframe past failures, inquiring of them the critical lessons that are to be gained in the process of progress.
Initiate the possibilities of the future: Try “it” again. Dare to do something that you’ve never done before. Even if it is the same task that one is attempting, try approaching it with a different expectation of the outcome and employ different strategies to accomplish the end goal.
Ignite faith- Anticipate God’s faithfulness. Expect that if we leave the shore (representation of shallow places in ones life) and go into the deep waters that God will sustain and provide for us beyond our wildest imaginations. “If we would dare to plunge deeper into the theological waters in which we are treading, expect that God will meet us there.”
This was a very appropriate message for Candler students as we have survived and come through the currents of midterms only to face the quickly approaching tidal wave of finals. I encourage us to contemplate and employ the things Dr. Cosby suggested above in our attempt to press forward and complete this race with integrity and sanity of mind.
Just as the fisherman, appeared to have caught absolutely nothing, until they connected with and surrendered to the directives of Jesus, let us too surrender to the voice of wisdom, trusting that God will fill every void, and enable us to accomplish more than we’d ever hoped to accomplish.
Press forward with the renewed hope that the race is not given to the swift, or the prize given to the expert, but to the one who endures and has ascertained the necessary skills and knowledge to move forward.
- Ashely Thomas
Ashley is a second year MDiv student from Atlanta and a Student Ambassador.