Singing is a big part of Ozark folk culture, and the Ozark people have a giant store of great folk ballads and hymns to choose from. I grew up in a church that at least for a little while sang a lot of the old hymns, and while I may not identify with the brand of Christianity I grew up with, singing the hymns as well as the folk songs figures into the work I do in great ways.

Singing and healing has always gone hand-in-hand, and there are so many cultures out there that use singing as a way of connecting with the spirit world and the forces of healing. While it may seem like many of the Southern traditions are devoid of these healing songs that’s absolutely not the case, they have just been transformed. The Ozarks and Appalachian communities are filled with ballads talking about a family death, or about a certain place, or specific event and are used as not only a way of remembering the past, or as entertainment, but also as a sort of honoring of ancestors and the land.

Hymns and spirituals run deep among hillfolk communities and are often sources of great healing and cathartic experiences for the people who sing them. I have very vivid memories growing up of the “screaming ladies” in church, who when certain hymns started rising up would work up into a frenzy powered by the Holy Spirit. I have to say that for the longest time I didn’t have fond memories of these times, as they were mostly terrifying for me and one of those reasons I always dreaded having visitors at the church. Oh Lord, here they go, now these poor people will never come back. But as I’ve gotten older, and maybe being more spirit-inclined now myself, I can look at what was happening with a more mature perspective and say that what these ladies were experiencing, above all else, was a moment of healing for themselves and others. By their act, this completely submission to the Spirit, and the outpouring of emotion and love, I think they were able to do so much more for themselves and others than I think people, and myself, realized at the time.

I find myself these days working in some of those old hymns and songs into the work I do. Sometimes the song is born out of the moment, other times a hymn will pop in my head that seems appropriate for the work I’m doing. There’s something to be said about songs that have been passed down through the ages. It becomes something much more than just words on a page set to a tune, it becomes a powerful way of connecting to the past and to the present.

Here are some of my favorite hymns and songs to use in healing work. These are the ones that seem to pop up for me more than any others.


Sacred harp tunes:

421 Happy Morning
The happy day will soon appear, And we’ll all shout together in that morning. When Gabriel’s trumpet you shall hear, And we’ll all shout together in that morning.

Chorus: Sweet morning, sweet morning, And we’ll all shout together in that morning.

Behold the righteous marching, home, And we’ll all shout together in that morning. And all the angels bid them come, And we’ll all shout together in that morning.

(Chorus)

288 White
Ye fleeting charms of earth farewell, Your springs of joy are dry; My soul seeks another home. A brighter world on high.

Chorus: I’m a long time trav’ling here below, I’m a long time trav’ling away from home, I’m a long time trav’ling here below, To lay this body down.

Farewell, my friends, whose tender care Has long engaged my love; Your fond embrace I now exchange For better friends above.

(Chorus)

47b Idumea
And am I born to die? To lay this body down! And must my trembling spirit fly Into a world unknown?

A land of deepest shade, Unpierced by human thought; The dreary regions of the dead, Where all things are forgot!

Soon as from earth I go, What will become of me? Eternal happiness or woe Must then my portion be!

Waked by the trumpet sound, I from my grave shall rise; And see the Judge with glory crowned, And see the flaming skies!


Hymns

Victory in Jesus

I heard an old, old story,
How a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me;
I heard about His groaning,
Of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins
And won the victory.

Chorus
O victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood;
He loved me ere I knew Him
And all my love is due Him,
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.

I heard about His healing,
Of His cleansing pow’r revealing.
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see;
And then I cried, “Dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit,”
And somehow Jesus came and bro’t
To me the victory.

I heard about a mansion
He has built for me in glory.
And I heard about the streets of gold
Beyond the crystal sea;
About the angels singing,
And the old redemption story,
And some sweet day I’ll sing up there
The song of victory.

Be Thou My Vision

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, and I Thy true son,
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art.

High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

I’ll Fly Away

Some glad morning when this life is o’er,
I’ll fly away;
To a home on God’s celestial shore,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

Chorus
I’ll fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

When the shadows of this life have gone,
I’ll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away)

Just a few more weary days and then,
I’ll fly away;
To a land where joy shall never end,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away)

Morning Has Broken

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the word

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dew fall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness, where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day

Angel Band

My latest sun is sinking fast, my race is nearly run
My strongest trials now are past, my triumph has begun

Oh come Angel Band, come and around me stand
Oh bear me away on your snow white wings to my immortal home
Oh bear me away on your snow white wings to my immortal home

Oh bear my longing heart to Him who bled and died for me
Whose blood now cleanses from all sin and gives me victory