Chant from Elizabeth Combs: There is a balm ini Gilead to make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole
There is a balm in Giliead
To heal the weary soul (originally “sin-sick soul”)
In the Old Testament, Gilead was the name of the mountainous region east of the Jordan River. This region was known for having gifted physicians who made a miraculous ointment from the gum of a tree particular to that area. Later in Jeremiah 8, we read of judgement, hopelessness and exile, a desperate time in Israel’s history: Is there no balm in Gilead?
African American theologian Howard Thurman notes the “creative triumph” in the face of despair as the question mark is straightened to an exclamation point. This, he says, is the reason this spiritual is still sung widely today. I sensed an invitation from this spiritual to be sung in a chant fashion during the COVID-19 pandemic, as a response to what Thurman calls the hope beyond individual healing, for healing in the experience of all humanity. The definitive origin of the words and tune are unclear; the spiritual is in the public domain.
From Elizabeth Combs:
I have been chanting and singing my whole life, and it is the practice that most grounds me in my heart, mind and body. I remember singing Southern Baptist hymns as my first prayer of breath and vibration. I found my way to Wisdom chant through Cynthia’s work with Darlene Franz, after many years chanting Sanskrit mantras in the yogic tradition. I enjoy creating chants — which is more like receiving chants from the atmosphere or the imaginal or wherever it is that chants come from. Some of my inspirations are sacred texts from many traditions, Teilhard’s works, poets ancient and modern, old Baptist hymns and spirituals, as well as direct from Spirit and Earth. I like to play my crystal bowls and shruti box outside in the Trees. At other times, I can be found caring for clients in my energy balancing practice, crafting herbal remedies or hanging out with my son Jack. I endeavor to be at home wherever I am, mainly in Bellingham WA and Winston- Salem NC. Singing every day reminds me that, really and truly, it is all about LOVE.