There are times in life when about all we can do is cry out our needs and hope that, somehow, somewhere, someone will help us. When I was a teen-ager, what drove this home especially powerfully was a song that my church group sang together every Sunday evening.
And yes, all you debunkers and cynics out there, we sang it in a big circle, holding hands.
It went like this: Someone’s praying … crying … singing … Lord, come by here. Oh, Lord, come by here. It’s about desperate need, and about calling on God in praise and hope.
For reasons I cannot fathom, this poignant song has become in some circles an object of ridicule. Disenchanted justice-seekers and peace-makers are now fond of asking, sneeringly, “What do you want us to do — just stand around, hold hands and sing Kum Ba Yah?”
Well, yes, every last verse of it. And don’t be afraid to shed a tear while you’re doing it.
Who would have thought that Kum Ba Yah would ever be looked upon as a call to passivity in the face of confrontations, conflicts, and demands for courageous action? Or as a phony expression of solidarity that nobody who is real really feels?
Certainly not Pete Seeger, or Joan Baez, or Peter/Paul/and Mary, or The Seekers, or Raffi, or civil rights marchers, or church campers, or … In those circles, the song got sung with meaning, and it raised spirits, time and time again. And in my circles, it still does. It is number 494 in my denomination’s hymnbook, praise the Lord.
The faith which Kum Ba Yah expresses has a stark simplicity about it: Lord, we need you. Come to us quickly. Please. If you’re uncomfortable acknowledging that this is the rock-bottom situation that every human being on earth eventually must face, then you probably won’t sing it.
Maybe it is because the song’s message is so unmistakable that singing it gets to some people the wrong way. At least, to those who still believe that the world can be bent to their own will and that people who doubt this should be shoved aside.
What Kum Ba Yah expresses from first to last is the trust to ask things of God, and the expectation of being heard, understood, and responded to with compassion. Who doesn’t need a faith like that?