A friend of mine asked me about the Negro Spiritual “Deep River” and its connection to Adventist living. This was a very interesting question that I began to think about. The singer of the Spiritual said:
My Home Is Over Jordan
Deep River, Lord
I Want To Cross Over Into Campground
The singer of this spiritual has a deep yearning for home that you can feel even in the words as well as the music that accompanied it. But there is something that is standing in the way of home. That is this deep chasm. There is a barrier to going home. We know that the singer of this spiritual was someone who was either removed from home, or never saw home in that the singer was one who was born in an alien land that every day reminded her that she was not home.
Whether it was the daily indignities of slavery or the threat of violence and even having family forcibly removed, there was no home for the slave. I definitely do not wish to minimize that alienation that was felt by the slave in making this comparison, but in some sense all of us who are pilgrims passing through this land deal with this alienation. We realize that we are not home.
The early Advent people must have felt a close kinship with the singer of this song on that October 23, 1844 when the day had past and Christ had not returned. They must have felt this “yearning” for home. They must have felt that there was this deep chasm between them and “home” and they just simply wanted to cross over into camp ground.
This yearning has been kept alive amongst the Second Advent people through the years. Listen to some of the old saints talk and you can still catch a glimsp of this “deep river feeling.” They speak of being in the “Last Days.” They speak of “wanting to go home.” They speak of “last day events.” Yes the still sing “Lift up the trumpet and loud let it ring, Jesus is coming again.” They still have that yearning for home that was a part of this movement.
I wonder if this “yearning for home” is something that is deep within the psyche of Adventists. Some have theological issues with this mindset. They say it promotes an otherworldly religion that does not deal with real issues of here and now. There probably is some truth to that. We have not always been at the forefront of calls for justice in this world. But, I wonder what will become of an Adventism that has lost this “yearning for home?” The slave who loses that yearning either loses “home” or has to change the definition of “home” to a place that does not look like “home.” I wonder if the movement is at that crossroads now. Certainly it has been a long time. Certainly it is difficult to hold on to the hope of the coming. But at the end of the day, just like the slave, this yearning is what makes us who we are, and more than that, it keeps us from being comfortable with any “home” that is not really “home.”