Sometime back I pointed to a statement, found in Amanda Porterfield’s ‘Modern Christianity’.
‘African American spirituals are “chants of collective exorcism” that delivered souls of black folk from total despair during the pre-civil war era in the United States’(2010:317)
The phrase is situated right at the beginning of Cheryl Kirk-Duggan’s essay entitled ‘Spirituals and the quest for freedom’. It’s been a while since I read the essay, but the impact it had on me has lived on.
Along with the socio-political context of Kirk-Duggan’s statement, it might also suit as a framework for the positive theological impact on music, architecture, proto-science and general intellectual activity of the Church (read: Commonwealth of Christ) in the middle-ages.
For example: among other things aspects of life in the Middle Ages reflected pain, suffering and oppression. in light of a transcendent point, that drove a reverential hope in God’s covenantal promise of deliverance. They were collective actions towards the Lord who alone is God, as He chooses to do and be for us[i].
Communal “exorcism” then, looks for a penetrative breakthrough, a freedom already granted under the interactivity of the one who ‘is not far from us’[ii].
We need to move beyond a socially engineered version (misconception?) of it and back to an appreciation of its relevance to the Church universal.
Our ideas of “exorcism” need to change, because this act is an exercise of our true freedom. We are essentially reaching for the God, who in Jesus the Christ reaches for us. It is a detachment, a protest and petition against whatever appearances, identity politics, labels and tolerance induced qualifiers might tell us about the nature of freedom. To borrow the theological language of Karl Barth, collective exorcism is related to God’s (“No”) reorientation of us towards a commanded orientation that is for us (God’s “Yes”).
Prayer is a collective “exorcize”.
This “exorcize” is activated by a liberating ‘encounter between nature and grace – the encounter between both men and women, and the Word of God’[iii]
An act where we are told that when, in, and under Christ, ‘two should agree’ we are to expect God’s own decisive ‘amen’[iv].
“Chants of collective exorcism”, therefore, becomes an important phrase for understanding how God, in Jesus-the-Victor works through us. Radical is the invitation to pray. Not in order to conjure up God, Barth would say, but so that we may call upon Him, in freedom for our neighbours, and our neighbours in freedom for us.
Consequently, “exorcize” (active prayer) becomes understood as an exercise of genuine freedom.
Distinguishing God’s triumph from that of human triumphalism. Finding a thankful paradox in the midst of pain, where we can rejoice in his triumph. Responding to an invitation with prayer and gratitude, for his triumph to become ours.
“Heyr, himna smiður” was written by Kolbeinn Tumason[i] in 1208. The music was composed in the 1970s by Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson (1938-2013), one of Iceland’s foremost contemporary composers.” (Arstidir music)
Hear, smith of the heavens, what the poet asks. May softly come unto me thy mercy.
So I call on thee, for thou hast created me. I am thy slave, thou art my Lord.
God, I call on thee to heal me. Remember me, mild one, Most we need thee.
Drive out, O king of suns, generous and great, human every sorrow from the city of the heart.
Watch over me, mild one, Most we need thee, truly every moment in the world of men.
send us, son of the virgin, good causes, all aid is from thee, in my heart.