Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot by John McCrady, 1937

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is a historic African-American spiritual. It was first written by Wallis Willis, a Choctaw freedman in the old Indian Territory, sometime before 1862. He was inspired by the Red River, which reminded him of the Jordan River and of the Prophet Elijah’s being taken to heaven by a chariot (2 Kings 2:11). McCrady’s painting shows mourners hovering over a deathbed visible through the open door of a cabin, while angels descend to take a newly departed soul to heaven in a chariot. The painting is full of rural and spiritual imagery. The song, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, is sung in choral below.

Anne and I attended the soul food supper at the MRH high school. This is the school districts traditional celebration at the close of Black History Month. In this context the choice of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” seemed appropriate to the season. On a more personal note, Anne’s Aunt Fran passed away last week. So the painting has a personal connection too.

Fran never stuck me as a particularly religious person, but I wouldn’t categorize myself as one either. I found her to be a kind, loving and caring person and if these aren’t religious values, then I don’t what is. My interjection of religious themes is not to be construed as a form of proselytizing. It is just that when the big themes arise, the life and death themes, I find it easier to fall back upon religious tradition. It offers a set of Arthur Murray steps for life to follow.

Fran made our wedding cake. I wish that I could have enjoyed it more than I did at the time. My problem was with the ceremonial feeding of the groom. I must admit that I started it, but Anne surely retaliated. I wonder if she would have been so exuberant then, if she could have seen her husband now. I should have manned up, instead I asked for a glass of water. Fran was rightly horrified. She taught home economics, don’t you know. In retrospect, I blame the server and not the cook. No tip for her! Fran also created an anniversary cake, which I did enjoy, because I served myself.

In later years, she switched from making me cakes to Fran-hattens, which I never had any problems getting down. When I pull up to the Cabin this summer, I’ll look for her, but she won’t be there. I want to pray for her.

She’s gone over before I did, coming for to carry me home. I hope she cuts a hole and pulls me through, coming for to carry me home. Since, you got there before I did, coming for to carry me home. Tell all our friends I’m coming too, coming for to carry me home. God bless you, Fran.

3 thoughts on “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

  1. She wasn’t religious but she enjoyed talking to the Methodist minister and hospice chaplain who both visited her in the last months and did not refuse their prayers or anyone else’s.

  2. Pingback: Covert Facts About the Underground Railroad

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