Were You There?

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Member Reviews

Interesting read, good for those of Catholic or high church persuasion. Would pass on selectively to contemplatives
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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 offers a chance for reflection, for finding a place of warmth 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 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). 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.
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The Christian season of Lent is approaching. On Ash Wednesday, the Christian world would be entering into a period of prayer, meditation, and reflections on the 40-days journey of Jesus right up to Holy Week. It is a significant time for believers to ponder about the way of Jesus who obeyed God the Father all the way to the Cross. God in His pleasure and power raised Him up on the third day and gave us hope that in the same way, all believers will also be resurrected together with Christ. Lent is a time of remembering the pain, the sorrow, and the suffering Christ. Author Luke Powery defines Lent as "a season of penitential reflection and repentance on the path toward the hope of Easter." It's a nice way to introduce the theme of this book, which is essentially to understand the nature and underlying contexts of many negro spirituals.

Right from Ash Wednesday, the first spiritual "Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel?" gives us a clear path of where the author is going. In a powerful reflection about the need for deliverance, Powery deals honesty with the issues of pain and suffering. He points out the hope that one day, we will all be delivered. The spiritual "Many Thousand Gone" gives us a troubling insight into actual slavery situations. The spiritual "Oh, Mary, Don't You Weep, Don't You Mourn" is a way for negro slaves to connect their plight with the story of Christ's suffering. "Kum Ba yah" is a hymn of personal need and plea for God to come. However, not all spirituals are sad and somber. The song "Do Lord, do Lord, Lord, remember me" is an upbeat prayer of asking God to remember us. This is especially poignant in a world full of short memories. Other songs include "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," "My Father, How Long," "Steal Away," "We Shall Overcome," and many others. Of course, the one that bears the same name as this book title is also included. Of particular interest are the songs selected for Holy Week. Powery carefully matches the day with a particular theme that expresses the mood and meaning of the road to Calvary. Maundy Thursday is a short meditation on Calvary. Good Friday challenges us to see Jesus at the Cross. After so many weeks asking God to help us, we are left pondering if we would do the same for Jesus. Silent Saturday looks at the atmosphere of silence surrounding the death of Christ. Just like the way the book of Malachi ends, followed by 400 years of silence, Saturday compresses the world's hopes into silent prayer and anticipation. We all know what happens on the third day, but that would need another book.

This is a unique book of negro spirituals that capture a large essence of what Lent means. Carefully chosen and creatively written, readers are given a mini-worship devotional to help one along the Lent season. Some of the hymns and spirituals are familiar. Others are not so familiar. In fact, readers might be surprised that folk or popular songs they have sang are negro spirituals in the first place! This delightful collection of meditations can also be a collection of spirituals for us to learn and to use in our churches. The scripture passages at the beginning of the daily devotional should be read and meditated upon first. Readers might be tempted to skip these passages and jump straight into the rest of the book. Doing so would distract us from the key themes in the biblical passages. At the end of each day, there is a short prayer that could be used to end the devotional.

I enjoyed this book and recommend this for use through the Lenten season.

Luke Powery is dean of Duke Divinity Chapel and associate professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
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I am not a Blogger but an average reader, I love to read good material. When I saw the title of your book along with the design I knew I had to inquired and I was not disappointed. The layout was dynamic and I cannot wait until it is published. If you are giving out free copies i would love to have one.
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A set of Lenten devotionals based on spirituals, this book also includes prayers, scriptures, and the texts of a number of old slave spirituals. If you are familiar with these spirituals, this will be a terrific book of devotionals. However, many of the spirituals are probably not known by many modern readers, and some of the devotionals thus fell flat for me. This book might be better as an audio resource.  I'm sure the devotionals would have been much more meaningful if I could hear the music before reading the devotionals, prayers, and scripture passages.
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