Every Time I Feel the Spirit

It is not always possible to find the story behind a song.  Songs classified as African-American spirituals, like this one, were typically created by slaves living in the southern United States in the pre-Civil War era.  The tunes and words were passed down for generations before even being written.

If we try to guess what might have been the inspiration for any song, it is truly only our personal conclusion, perhaps guided by study, certainly filtered by our own time and experiences.  Such is the case with Every Time I Feel the Spirit, one of my all time favorite songs.   I have read that some people consider Galatians 4:6 as the verse of inspiration for the song.  Could be.  Or not.  We don’t know.

We do know, however, that words of spirituals often had multiple meanings.  This idea of layered meanings in lyrics is still around.  I know of more than a few secular songs –and I bet you do, too– in which the double meaning of the words escapes parents but brings an exchange of winks and sly grins among their adolescent children and friends.  Multi-layered meanings are and were readily understood by the target audience.  For example, the line in Every Time I Feel the Spirit that reads, “There ain’t but one train on this track; It runs to heaven…” is likely referring to the Underground Railroad and the escape to freedom, a message easily recognized and of comfort to those enduring slavery.

It is impossible to separate the message from the form in a spiritual song.  A call-and-response song might contain the coded message in the “call” part of the song.  The “response” could be an indicator that the message was received. Much in the same way, songs with multiple verses and a refrain could contain information sent and acknowledged.  If a variation of a song (or portion of a song)  was sung, it could be an alert that new information was coming, not unlike a “breaking news” banner across the TV screen of today. It was simple yet brilliant and highly effective.

What messages does your heart hear in this song?

Here is a link to an organ setting of this song.  It is great fun to play, and is my postlude of choice on Pentecost.

Every Time I Feel The Spirit

Every time I feel the spirit
Movin’ in my heart I will pray
Every time I feel the spirit
Movin’ in my heart I will pray

Up on the mountains my Lord spoke
Out of His mouth came fire and smoke
Looked all around me, it looked so fine
I asked the Lord could it be mine

Every time I feel the spirit
Movin’ in my heart I will pray

The Jordan river is chilly and cold.
It chills the body but not the soul.
There ain’t but one train upon this track.
It runs to heaven and then right back.

Every time I feel the spirit
Movin’ in my heart I will pray

Oh, I have sorrow and I have woe
I have heartaches here below
But while God leads me I’ll never fear
For I know that He is near

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4 thoughts on “Every Time I Feel the Spirit

  1. Besides the words in the song, what are some music elements used in the song that really stands out? I am doing a project on this in my chorus class and was just wondering if you had any information thank you!

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  2. I just read your comment about “Every Time I Feel the Spirit” being your favorite Postlude on Pentecost and I wanted to say that we used the anthem as our sending song and Postlude today on Pentecost Sunday! Gary Crum, St John’s United Church of Christ, Chambersburg, PA

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