I heard a popular preacher teaching that certain songs were appropriate for worship and certain songs were not. I agreed in theory, but I could not agree with the songs he chose to exclude. He regarded songs such as “Soon and Very Soon”, or, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, or “Kum Ba Ya”, as inappropriate. He spoke of them as “lite”—campfire songs. It shows his ignorance and insensitivity. It could show that he has not lived enough and suffered enough for these songs to have meaning to him. But I doubt that this is true.
I give him the last bit of credit because so many others suffer the same ignorance. Kum Ba Ya has a place on the lips of anyone who has ever suffered or found themselves in need of God’s grace. It has deep meaning to anyone who has a need of God’s loving care. It is not a lite song but one ladened with sorrow and longing. It was not written around or for a campfire, but in the cotton fields by slaves who fostered hope of deliverance. Kum Ba Ya means Come by here. It is a cry, not a song; a prayer of one in desperate need of God’s presence.
For those who might cry out to God and ask Him to take notice of them, this song has meaning. If you tell me you do not understand when the song says “someone’s crying Lord,” then I will understand why you think nothing of it. If you have never been desperate enough to weep bitterly the words will be hallow to you. If you have never spent anxious hours on your knees imploring God to take notice of you, then the song will not touch you. If, however, you have lived, or are living a life that knows the turmoil of sin and sorrow then you know what it is to cry Kum Ba Ya.
Kum Ba Ya is a hopeful song. While there is pain, there is also joy because—“someone’s laughing” and “someone’s singing.” The song was birthed in the painful oppression of slavery and offered hope to many. There is no reason it should not do the same today. If it is relegated to simply a “campfire song” I pray it is because of ignorance and not because we can no longer relate to those who suffer. This is my prayer, “Kum Ba Ya my Lord. Kum Ba Ya.”
Ex. 6:5, Psa. 18:6, Psa. 22:24, Psa. 28:2, Psa. 30:2, Psa. 69:3, Psa. 77:1, Psa. 88:13, Psa. 102:1, Psa. 119:147, Acts 7:34, James 5:4
Copyright(c)2006 Hudson Russell Davis
Let us charge it to the head and not the heart, because I know of no one who does not stand in the need of God’s grace, for it is by grace we are saved. Life is what happens while we are living, and at some point those who believe that GOD IS, will cry out in their weakness and pain, “Kum Ba Ya my Lord, Kum Ba Ya.”