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Rev. James Ellis, III Headshot

Hear My Call

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Outside of the shower, whatever vocal ability that I dream to possess fades drastically, so I am careful to keep my illusions of grandeur there. I am fine with preaching, "spoken word" poetry, and other individualized public presentations, but singing is another story altogether. There are countless soloists and choir members whose melodic notes I have benefited from in church, as they have led praise and worship. But, of course, there are the household names that we know and love. Heralded vocal geniuses and bonafide superstars--in random order--like Patti LaBelle, Luther Vandross, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Chaka Khan, Vesta Williams, Prince, Ella Fitzgerald, Celia Cruz, Freddie Mercury of Queen, B.B. King, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Fred Hammond, Bob Dylan. This is an über abbreviated, highly subjective list from a novice music lover, but you get the point. These artists are not just good, like Tony the Tiger has screamed all of these years about his sugar concoction of milled corn, "They're Gr-r-reat!"

With all of the newfangled studio production technologies to make those who can't sing seem that they can and the constant convergence of R&B, rap, and pop music, I am not easily impressed by today's popular singers. Other than Carrie Underwood, Michael Bublé, and Jazmine Sullivan, even with my old school sensibilities there is one contemporary singer whose voice I am absolutely enamored with. Her name is Jill Scott and she burst onto the neo soul music scene in 1999. At the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC back in the day with my sister, I was there when she performed "You Got Me" with The Roots, her comrades from the City of Brotherly Love, and I have been hooked ever since.

Now an accomplished actress, author, and songstress, this afro-wielding soul sister's current album, The Light Of The Sun, is another classic in my book. The seventh track, "Hear My Call," is my favorite. On more than one occasion it has caused yours truly to fill with such emotion that jumbo-sized tears have been shed. The song is so compelling no doubt because of who sings it, but also what she sings about. In a word, it is honest.

Although presumably about a relationship gone awry, the larger narrative applies to every nook and cranny of humanity's sojourn. That is, endeavoring to make sense of the muck and mire of their temporary subsistence in submission to God in whose image they were created. The song's beautiful refrain goes like this:

God, please hear my call.
I am afraid...for me.
Love has burned me raw.
I need your healing...please...please.

Whether stemming from issues of broken relationships, unfulfilled dreams, theodicy, physical or mental illness, or socio-economic challenges, everyone has a dark night of the soul at one time or another. We contemplate why bad things happen to good people. We walk the plank of our past, confused about the present and petrified of the future. We self-medicate with sex, drugs, shopping, food, and anything else to ease our pain, no matter the calamitous consequences. We are secret agents in our own private Off-Broadway play. Although speaking primarily in the context of racial identity, in his 1952 novel Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison described this dynamic well when he wrote, "I am an invisible man... I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids -- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understood, simply because people refuse to see me."

People definitely refuse to see us correctly at times, but more often we have a poor vision of ourselves and God to begin with. When people have abused or abandoned us, and even when, in the most grievous of instances, we have sold our souls to the highest bidder, God is still there, fully interested in hearing our cries for help, and committed to providing help. Life is not like my favorite childhood animated series, G.I. Joe, where combat between good and evil never results in any loss of life, just a few blue and red laser beams or punches thrown here and there. Life is gritty, grimy, and complex, which is all the more reason that calling on God is an act of strength, not weakness as some would like us to think. Formerly Saul of Tarsus, the apostle Paul said, "For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Jill Scott's song has strong echoes of the Christian witness whether she intended it to or not. "Hear my cry, O God." (Psalm 61:1) "Hear my prayer, O Lord." (Psalm 102:1) "O God, listen to my prayer." (Psalm 54:2) The created have been talking this way to the Creator for ages, calling out in distress. (2 Samuel 22:7, Psalm 18.6) I am so glad that there is no call waiting in heavenly places. God sees. God knows. God cares.

Thanks for the reminder, Jilly from Philly.