Beginning this week, I’ll be using “Chapel Views” to introduce various resources, practices, and ideas for you to use during Lent.
Face it, Lent can be a hard sell. For one thing, we’re fatigued by snow and winter. If you ask a Midwesterner what they want to give up for Lent, they’ll likely say “heavy coats.”
Yet the season also offers a chance for reflection, for finding a place
of warm in a world frozen by struggle and hatred. The gift of Lent is a chance to turn away from the noise of culture to search for a song which will hold our broken hearts. “Suffering is always present like the paparazzi,” writes Luke Powery in the preface to “Were You There?” a Lenten devotional based on African-American spirituals. “Suffering is a part of the sin-sick world. And if there is a theological musical genre that reminds us of this, it is the Spirituals.”
Powery, Dean of Duke University Chapel and associate professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School, writes in an accessible tone that is bathed in profound theological acumen. This is a rare contribution to devotional literature and sets the book apart from the more typical over-sentimentalized versions of devotional materials found in religious bookstores. By merging the liturgical world of Lent with the historical-cultural world of Black music, Powery guides the reader across the hardscrabble terrain of Lent. His background in music, preaching and ministry shines in each of these brief reflections.
The book will be useful as a daily devotional during Lent (or any time of the year), or for use in discussion groups. Pastors and worship teams may find it a helpful resource for Sunday morning worship. Taking time to learn the music and the message of these songs will benefit any congregation intent on bridging racial divides today. Not all the spirituals will be familiar to all readers. That only adds to the book’s value, however. By introducing readers to slave songs, Powery reinforces his message of remembering God’s hope by uncovering songs no longer widely sung. The music may be unfamiliar, but the words remain relevant. The honest expressions of lament, grief, and longing will resonate in many hearts today.
For example, while the spiritual “De Blin’ Man Stood on de Road an ‘Cried” is based on the story of Jesus healing the blind man in Luke 18, the song offers no images of healing. As Powery says, there is “only a cry and lots of it.”
Those uncomfortable with unresolved pain and grief will find this jarring, and perhaps even unacceptable. Yet many persons never find healing. Many live with both ongoing physical pain as well as the stinging and never-ending spiritual pangs of racism, poverty, and hatred. For affluent, white Christians, this book will assist in deciphering codes of privilege and culturally embedded racism. All persons will find encouragement in Powery’s faithful invitation to a richer experience of God’s faithfulness during Lent.