“Walking in the Light of God”
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3163
SOURCE: Upper Room Worshipbook, no. 433
SCRIPTURE: Deuteronomy 10:12; Isaiah 9:2
TOPIC: Light, Discipleship and Service, Freedom, Liberation
In 2005, The Upper Room Division of Discipleship Ministries sent a team to work with its Africa office in Johannesburg, South Africa. During their working visit, team members participated with the African Upper Room staff and local Zulu people in prayer meetings and worship services, sometimes videotaping as they sang and worshiped. "Walking in the Light of God" is one of the songs from those services. Upon returning to Nashville, the song was transcribed, researched for copyright, and arranged for publication, first appearing in The Upper Room Worshipbook (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2006).
"Walking in the Light of God" is one of many freedom and liberation songs that sprang up during the struggle against apartheid. It bears some similarity, though no real connection, to the better-known "Siyahamba/We Are Marching in the Light of God," similarly born in the protests and street demonstrations of South Africa.
Among the differences between African and African American musical performance are two that are prominently featured in this song: African American musical forms often give emphasis to the off-beats of a meter, as demonstrated by clapping on beats 2 and 4 of 4/4 time, while African musical forms emphasize the stronger beats 1 and 3. The other difference may be less a difference as it is one of degree. There is often a physicality of expression and performance involved in African American singing -- clapping, swaying, toe tapping, and the like. In African music, there is much more physicality. It may take the form of dancing, walking or jumping, marching, large expressive gestures and body movements, even physically acting out the content of the lyrics.
On the videotape of this song as it was being sung in worship, it was much more than mere singing. The lead singer led the others in forming a line and walking and occasionally jumping all around the room as they sang the verses over and over. The guitars and many percussion instruments also joined in the line and performance. There were different body movements for the three stanzas, and these changed through the numerous repetitions.
Each refrain and stanza is sung twice every time it is sung. Stanza one's "Walk, walk, walk, walk" should be sung with great accent and staccato, contrasted with the more connected singing of the "walking in the light of God" phrase. Stanza two's "'Hamba, 'hamba, 'hamba, 'hamba" should likewise contrast with "walking in the light of God," with each "hamba" being punctuated in a low, guttural cry, each one staccato and accented.
With all the singing, walking, rhythmic percussion, and physicality involved in singing this great song, it would be easy to simply get caught up in the energy and celebration of the song. But it is important to never forget the context of "Walking in the Light of God" as a song of human liberation, freedom, struggle and protest, and that God's promise is one of hope and freedom to those who walk in God's light.