One of my favorite singers of all time is Mahalia Jackson. For those of you who have never heard her do yourself a favor, hop on the Google and check her out. Type in Mahalia Jackson – How I Got Over and press play. You’ll be glad you listened to this beautiful lady – they called her the “Queen of Gospel” – one of the most powerful black gospel singers of the 20th century.
Mahalia Jackson was blessed with the voice of an angel and in spite of living a life filled with pain, she recognized that her voice was a gift from God, and used it to passionately declare her love for God and their journey in life together. She marched on Washington and was at the Lincoln Memorial standing side by side with Martin Luther King Jr. when he gave his “I Have a Dream…” speech. In fact, there would have been no dream speech if not for Mahalia. When he was speaking she shouted out to him from the crowd… “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” The rest is history.
One of her most famous songs is called “His Eye is On the Sparrow”. You’ve probably heard it. It was famously covered by Lauryn Hill in the Sister Act movies. Whenever times get tough in my life, I find myself turning back to this song over and over. I’ll share with you the lyrics.
“Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart feel lonely and low for heaven and home? When Jesus is my portion: my constant friend is He. His eyes is on the little sparrow and I know He cares for you and me. His eyes is on the little sparrow and I know God is watching over you and me. I sing because my soul is happy. I sing because I’m free. Oh His eyes is on the little old sparrow – and I know He’s watching over you and me.”
When someone can sing a song with so much passion that you absolutely believe every word they are saying, that is a gift. I’ve read a bit about the personal pain that Mahalia Jackson lived through. A similar upbringing that many of my ancestors endured through residential school. And yet, that beautiful voice sang through the accumulated pain of her sufferings and blessed many.
I’ve been thinking a lot about overcoming pain and moving forward away from this pain identity I embraced as a “cancer patient” and feel like just now, two and half years later, I am ready to embrace being a survivor. But this is a difficult task. As ironic as it sounds, sometimes remaining in the dwelling place with our pain is far more comfortable than growing past it and embracing whatever the future hold. I am on the cusp. I can see it, I can feel it, and in the greater sense it seems that many others in our Six Nations community are there too.
I’m part of an online collective of moms who want to do good for our indigenous kids. We want to grow holisitic little Haudenosaune humans; we want them to have access to the best education, the best foods and natural medicines, the best opportunity to live balanced lives walking out indigenous well-being and we want them to be able to make Six Nations the best community to live in. And yet, in pursuing that dream I have to admit that there is still a small part of me that is nervous to abandon the comfort of my rez-cred and fully embrace a full and better life for my kids…without sacraficing a part of my identity. Have I become too comfortable in our collective pain and poverty to grow? God help me to never be the originator of my own stagnation.
As I’ve been pondering these things lately, I keep coming back to these songs. This black woman who was renowned during a time when it was nearly a crime to be dark skinned and not be a slave. Yet she sings so passionately, “…I sing because I’m free…” and something hits me in the centre of my guts.
God, the Creator of all things had a purpose, an intention and a thing to do with her voice. That is when I realize that He Who Created Our Bodies has a thing to do with all of our voices. Whether we are columnists, gospel singers, gas pumpers, cigarette makers, welders, social workers, band councilors, confederacy chiefs, students, children, or elders: there is something lined up for us to do. We just have to have the bravery to step into it and allow Him to lead us in that good way.