Bill Menke's BLOG Page: Justice and Commiphora Opobalsamum

Commiphora Opobalsamum
Balm of Gilead

This is what the Lord says ...
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
for the wound of my people?
Jeremiah 8:22

I sang the tenor solo in the African-American Spiritual There is a Balm in Gilead last week. Its a short but awsome piece of music, communicating (at least to me) a feeling of poignant melancoly, hopeful but tentative. I was at first suprised that such a minor biblical reference would find its way into folk music. Balm of Gilead is mentioned just once in the Bible, toward the end of a longish passage in the Book of Jeremiah. But upon reflection, I can see that the subject of that whole book is the yearning for the deliverance from oppression. So Jeremiah's poetry must have meant a lot to the African-American slave who composed the song. Perhaps the first singer knew - unlike me - every word, by heart.