I’ve been listening to the latest album by Larkin Poe, Self-Made Man, and there’s a great track on it called Holy Ghost Fire. You tend to get a few references to the Bible in a Larkin Poe album, not doubt reflecting the sisters background in the Southern Bible Belt.
“Who’s gonna help me carry my load
Burn, burn baby burn with that Holy Ghost Fire
From your fingers to the frets…gonna testify.”
It’s raw, apocalyptic sounding stuff, conjuring up images of wild Pentecostal exuberance. Exuberant joy, is of course, the mark of the Spirit moving – it seeps through the Bible’s pages, even though you wouldn’t think it when you attend most churches today. Kenny Meeks’s song, When Jesus Takes You Dancing, catches the exhilaration of all this on his 2016 bluesy Americana album, New Jerusalem. “When Jesus takes you dancing…the Holy Ghost takes over you and sets you all on fire…”
You get the same holy dancing in Beth Hart’s Spirit of God from her 2012 album, Bang Bang Boom Boom which takes us on a rockin’ journey from Beth’s house to the house of God where she goes “hip shakin’ down the aisle”, then “breaking bread with my own special style”. Spirit of God worship is clearly not the sombre sit-in-your-pew, be quiet and sleep through the sermon version which is served up in too many churches. In Beth’s church, it’s a “soul celebration,” where the preacher’s “goin’ crazy…knocking devils down on the floor,” the choir is “giving it up to the Lord,” and Beth knows she’s sure “feeling something!”
The Holmes’ Brothers Speaking in Tongues from their eponymous 2001 album, gives us more Pentecostal action:
“You got me speaking in tongues, speaking your name,
Lord let me understand you
You got shaking my head, lifting my hands…”
Think it’s strange? Sister Rosetta Tharpe was singing in 1944 about the strange things that happened every day when God’s on the move. People might get healed:
“There are strange things happening everyday
He gave the blind man sight
When he praised Him with all his might
There are strange things happening everyday.”
Songs about the Holy Spirit in the blues go back to Blind Willie Johnson, with his Latter Rain. The lyrics of this are often misunderstood. You need to appreciate that for Willie Johnson’s Pentecostal church, the latter rain was the rain of the Spirit that the Old Testament prophet Joel had prophesied. Joel was quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit fell on the first group of Jesus followers – “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” But Joel also talked about the early rain and the latter rain. The early Pentecostal believers like Willie Johnson believed that what they were experiencing was a fresh shower of the Spirit’s blessing – the latter rain, as opposed to the early rain that had fallen on the first believers. “It’s for you, it’s for you, it’s for you and your children too,” go the lyrics, reflecting the prophet Joel’s word.
Spin forward another 25 years and you have the Rev. Gary Davis singing I Heard the Angel Singing, where the “Holy Ghost on fire” fell on him, and he “got in the Spirit and began to shout.” The devil tries to stop him praying, but the singing of the angels spur him on. Eric Bibb has a great version of this song. [check out, too Eric’s Spirit and the Blues album]
Larry Norman, father of Jesus rock in 1972 wondered “why should the devil have all the good music?” He’d been filled with the Spirit, he sang, “I feel OK, because Jesus is the rock and he rolled my blues away.”
And bang up to date, we have the Mason Creek Project’s Holy Spirit Blues. “Everytime I feel the Spirit, I feel like dancin’ in my shoes.”
Giving a slightly different different angle is this great Kelly Joe Phelps song, The Holy Ghost Flood. There are no fireworks in Kelly Joe’s beautiful song, featuring his characteristic and wonderful guitar picking, just a recognition of his own need: “Oh Lord a sinner I am, Asking you to forgive me.” He needs a “flood” of the Holy Spirit, of God’s presence which means:
“Blessing us in kind,
Leaving not a soul behind.”
According to Pew Research, Pentecostalism and related “charismatic movements” represent one of the fastest-growing segments of global Christianity, with around a quarter of the world’s 2 billion Christians. They celebrate the gift of the Spirit in exuberant worship and a keen sense of God’s Spirit at work in their everyday lives.
Actually, this pretty much reflects the early Christian movement that we read about in the New Testament. These early communities were communities of the Spirit where the speaking in tongues, healing and prophesying we’ve seen in the songs above, were a regular feature of their worship. As were other Spirit inspired ways of life like love, patience and kindness.
Maybe it’s time to let the Spirit move and go with Beth Hart “hip shakin’ down the aisle.” Something to try next Sunday morning you’re at church!