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



I am married but I use my maiden name. Why? Because years ago I promised my father I would. When I was writing for Sheet Music Magazine, I received a lot of reader write-in mail, all with music related comments or questions……except for one.  It was addressed to me, marked ‘Personal’.  The letter writer introduced herself as a representative of a high school reunion committee and wondered if, because of my unusual name, I was one related to one of their classmates.  She was hopeful that I could send the reunion invitation to the right person.  My heart skipped a beat as I read the name of their “missing classmate.”  It was my father’s name.

I rushed to visit my father, handed him the letter, and waited as he slowly opened and read it.  I could see he was carefully reading and rereading the letter and but he looked confused.  The only sound in the room was the ticking of the mantel clock. I didn’t understand.  Was the committee looking for someone else with the same name?  I became concerned that the writer was mistaken, or worse, that we were the victims of a sick joke.  Finally, slowly, Dad looked up with tears in his eyes.  All he said was,  “I didn’t think anyone remembered me.”  Then he went back to reading the letter, this time with a smile.

Unlocking the Mind

I recently enrolled in a writing/blogging challenge.  Today’s assignment was to free write for 20 minutes.  I smiled (rather smugly) to myself, and bopped on over to my site to add my writing for the day.  Then, it happened.  Writer’s block.  I typed the title just fine. No problem.  But then the little cursor just kept winking at me, and didn’t move.  Seconds.  Minutes.

This is getting embarrassing.  Believe me, I am not known for being one of those quiet types of few words.  More winking cursor. More minutes.

Why was I stumbling when asked to unlock my mind and write, yet I ask all of my students to unlock their minds every week?  You see, I teach music (piano, voice, organ and theory).  Every week, I meet with students in my studio, or in a classroom or through Skype.  I strive to encourage those people, young and old, to get out of their comfort zone and learn a new skill.  I ask them to trust that everything I want them to try, I fully believe they are capable of doing.  I want them to succeed wildly.  I hope and pray each one will experience the absolute joy of making music.  Sure, like all teachers, I would love to have students who are ‘rising stars’.  But much more than that, I want to help people play the birthday song at family gatherings, and be able to play carols as friends gather at Christmas, and show people how to use music to convey feelings when words fail.  I want to help people make music a part of their lives.  And how does this happen?

It happens by unlocking the mind.  It is too easy to accept the life limitations imposed on us by others or even ourselves. You want to learn to play music?  Then DO IT!   I stumbled with the writing assignment because of my attitude that it would be easy, an attitude more deadly than thinking the assignment would be difficult.   This is a good reminder for me:  Be open.  Be quiet.  Be gentle.  Unlock your mind and listen to your heart.   Your heart is where dreams and possibilities live.

Now, let’s get to work turning possibilities into realities.