Spiritual songs originated from the experience of enslaved Africans in the United States. They are the psalms of a people in exile who lifted their hearts in praise, thanksgiving, lament to God while they experienced harsh circumstances. The songs express deep religious faith and belief in the eternal God who is greater than temporary hardships.
The persistent theme permeating Spirituals is the need for radical change in the current social situation. For the slave, this meant freedom. As such, spirituals can be classified as songs of protest. The appeal for deliverance and change is directed to God, who hears their cry and delivers them “on time.”
The spirituals are an ageless liturgical resource for any worshipping community. As we observe Black History month, there are key lessons passed down from these songs and their creators. The themes of community, love, repentance, trust, and service are threaded into the fabric of the Spirituals. As we recover from the global pandemic of 2020, an overarching question we may ask of the spirituals in 2021 is: how does faith empower one to persevere through difficulty in life?