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Steal away, steal away

Steal away to Jesus!

Steal away, steal away home;

I ain’t got long to stay here.

Yesterday’s choir honored Junteenth by singing the African American spiritual, Steal Away, composed around 1862. Its yearning to make a radical change, in secrecy, smarts the senses, provokes shortness of breath, enhances identification. Repetitious lyrics and the melodic line afford rapid learning and lodge in the heart-memory. Such is my take on this spiritual, in my present circumstances.

Although Steal Away was composed by Wallace Willis, a field slave of a Choctaw freedman in the old Indian territory, Doaksville, Oklahoma, its widespread use among enslaved Africans is questioned by Frederick Douglass, freed slave and African American social reformer, and other current critics.

The spiritual’s use, as code for fugitives on the Underground Railroad, is also questioned as little evidence substantiates this claim. Douglass maintained only small groups planning escape to the North found courage in singing Steal Away. Such singing the white populace regarded as the “many silly things they do.”—Viewing them as less than human.

I ain’t got long to stay here.

So, the declaration concludes, impacted by strong metaphors: home: realm of freedom and eternal life; thunder and lightning: sources of dangerous energy; the trumpet: instrument of authority used in Old Testament for worship services, teaching, correction, and announcing war; call: a summons that demands immediate compliance, thunder, lightning, and green trees bending that suggest nature’s influence. At work here is the redemptive power of the Lord among sinners, falling short of the mark.

I include myself among them as I wait…

At 7 A. M., I awoke with this reassuring dream:

“Will we see Jesus when we cross over to the other side?” I asked a venerable old priest.

Laughter crinkled his sagging jowls as he said, ”Of course, we will!” His mirth touched me deeply.

And I still feel his mirth as I write this blog, an antidote to last night’s soft fall after using the bedside commode. Accustomed to shutting its lid and standing up at the same time, I lost my balance, the bed catching my upper body, my sandaled feet scrambling to maintain my awkward position lest I slip onto the floor. Long moments of helplessness passed until I edged my way atop the bed, then shuddered. Sleep came immediately.

The dream snippet afforded me a window into my psyche, filled with the presence of a venerable old priest who has companioned me throughout my life. Again, he responds to a critical question, one often in my awareness as I move through suffering related to aging and living with terminal illness, the experience of most seniors I have known.

Too often the dregs of illness have eclipsed my imagination of its vision of eternal life, my symptoms holding me hostage. Like siroccos or hot dust-laden winds, hopelessness blinds and suffocates—Nothing lives.

In such circumstances, my venerable old priest appears bridging the chasm that separates me from the Sacred. He knows of my communion with Jesus, the Christ, critical for maintaining sanity in the midst of diminishment. In a time unknown to me, all this shall pass. 

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