Home Equipping Leaders African American Celebrating Black History Month #20

Celebrating Black History Month #20

A balm is something that heals, soothes, or comforts. My mother used to place a homemade medicine plaster on my chest overnight when I was sick with the flu. She called it a balm. And I always felt better in the morning. Perhaps it was similar for the African American songwriter who first sang "There is a balm in Gilead," suffering through the miseries and indignities of slavery.

Inspiration for the words (United Methodist Hymnal no. 375) came from Jeremiah 8:22, "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?" and Jeremiah 46:11, "Go up to Gilead, and take balm, O virgin daughter Egypt! In vain you have used many medicines; there is no healing for you." The spiritual responds to the question of 8:22 with an affirmation, "Yes, there IS a balm in Gilead! We will find comfort and healing from the injustice and suffering of this life in Jesus. This suffering and pain will give way to liberation."

In whatever setting or arrangement, and whether it is sung by soloist, choir, or congregation, the message of "There Is a Balm in Gilead" is that regardless of circumstances, in Jesus there is a promise of healing, hope, and liberation.