STLT#211, We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder

Later this morning, I am leading our congregation’s Teach In on White Supremacy, joining over 600 Unitarian Universalist congregations around the country in examining the larger cultural systems that even progressive organizations like ourselves don’t realize we’re perpetuating.

In this service, I am preferencing the words of people of color, letting their words inform and minister to my largely elderly, almost entirely white congregation. To pontificate myself would do a huge disservice, for how can I possibly speak for those whose pain, fear, anger, and sorrow I can never know?

Similarly, I find myself unable to talk much about this song, which holds such deep resonance for the descendants of enslaved Africans, for whom this song spoke of hope, salvation, and freedom. It may have been a coded song, although its origins in 1825 or so tell us it was being sung was before the Underground Railroad, and certainly before the US Colored Infantry and US Colored Troops, which some say the original lyric “soldiers of the cross” alludes to.

What I know is that there is a deep, soulful, melancholy to this song that I can never understand for myself but can hear from others, most powerfully, to me, from Sweet Honey in the Rock:

We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
we are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
we are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
we are climbing on.

Ev’ry round goes higher, higher…

If I stumble, will you help me? …

Though the road is steep and rugged…


Painting of Jacob’s Ladder is by Marc Chagall


    • Thanks. It went well. The poem “Healing” by our colleague Adam Dyer was the piece that really got folks thinking and talking.


Comments are closed.