Last week, in circumstances that have nothing to do with conjure at all, I met a wonderful, powerful woman who turned me on to the Friends of Negro Spirituals. She also alerted me to an upcoming event, their Fourth Annual Negro Spirituals Heritage Day, an awards ceremony. The speechifying was brief, informative, and to the point. The atmosphere was respectful, courteous, and friendly; not only to me, but to each other.
But here is where Jesus and I inch a little closer together:

Anthony Jerome Smith, baritone and composer, sang three spirituals, including one that was new to me: “I Got a Home in That Rock.” The chorus runs:

You got a home in that rock, don’t you see?
You got a home in that rock, don’t you see?
Between the Earth and sky
I heard my Savior cry,
“You got a home in that rock, don’t you see?”

That’s about as universalist as you’re going to get.

Pretty as that was, I was going to let that roll off my back, until Diane Ferlatte got up to tell a story. Her subject was the mysterious High John the Conqueror, and how he brought the gift of hope where there is no hope. His sign, indeed, is laughter, just as Zora Neale Hurston says. As Ms. Ferlatte told it, he fell on the slaves like the Holy Spirit and took them off on a tour of the cosmos which included a stop at hell – “just for a minute!” – and a visit to heaven itself. The voice of the slave master shook them out of this vision, but they were left with gifts of song and laughter that were not dependent on outside events, but could be called up whenever they were most needed.

As soon as I heard that, I realized: High John and Jesus are cousins!

I offered this insight to several people there, and they didn’t quite get it – but neither did they contradict me. In fact, one gentleman told me, “Well, we each have to approach these things in our own way.”

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