Tomorrow evening marks the beginning of Passover, and today was Palm Sunday and the kick-off of Holy Week for many Christians like myself (although for those observing the Eastern Orthodox calendar, Palm Sunday will arrive very much later on April 28th). So I take this opportunity to wish happy holidays and observances to all, and may God have mercy on every one of us.
In the spirit of thinking of songs that in a certain sense span the Judeo/Christian story, I happened to think of “Wade in the Water” today. It is of-course a famous Negro spiritual, and has been performed too many times by too many people in too many variations to even begin a litany. I love the song for its mysteriousness. I guess the one fundamental observation that can be made about it is that it blends the story of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea with the Christian belief in baptism by water. The chorus (which is the one thing that is consistent amongst the many versions) goes:
Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children,
Wade in the water
God’s a-going to trouble the water
… and if one is inclined to reflect on these two notions, combined—God physically saving his chosen people from Pharoah’s pursuing army, and the Christian idea of salvation through baptism—that chorus has endless resonance. And water runs through the Bible, far beyond the Red Sea and baptism. Merely two other important references: When Jacob saw Rachel leading her father’s sheep, he single-handedly rolled the stone away from the well and watered that flock. In the New Testament, Jesus offers “the living water” to the Samaritan woman at the well. (As an aside, perhaps it’s worth noting that the Bible defined these two fundamentals long before science had established them with formulae: Light, as intrinsic to Creation—God’s first words in the Bible being “Let there be light”—and water, as intrinsic to life.)
“Wade in the Water” also, obviously, had particular resonance for Negro slaves in America longing for their own freedom. Some argue that the song even was intended as a set of coded instructions on how to escape and avoid capture; i.e. traveling by water and avoiding dry land.
So, it is a song with roots in many different soils, and one that still stands up straight and true today.
I wanted to find a version that reflected this kind of diverse sourcing, and settled on the one I’m linking via YouTube below. Yours truly is still unashamedly on a big Welsh kick, so it is a male voice choir in the style of a Welsh male voice choir, but actually based in a village called Haydock, in Merseyside, England, and here they are singing this American Negro spiritual from the nineteenth century, inspired by the story of the Israelites, led by Moses and saved by God from slavery to the Egyptians circa three thousand years ago. Diversity doesn’t get more diverse. The common denominator is one worth wondering upon.