There is an old African-American spiritual that says, “Rock a my soul in the bosom of Abraham. Oh, rock a my soul!” At first glance its meaning may seem obscure, but it speaks to a deep tradition and a kind of spiritual strategy that has great wisdom.
Biblically, the “bosom of Abraham” referred to the place of rest in Sheol, where the righteous dead awaited the Messiah and Judgment Day. It is mentioned only once (Luke16:22-23), in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. In the parable, Lazarus is said to rest and abide in the bosom of Abraham, awaiting the Messiah’s full redemption, whereas the rich man is in Gehenna, a place of torment.
More generally, though, the image of resting in the bosom of Abraham is rooted in the image of a sick, frightened, or wounded child resting safely in the arms of his parents (in this case those of his father). Most children remember awakening from a bad dream and running into their parents’ bedroom for refuge, to a place where they could rest in security.
Spiritually, Abraham is our father in faith; he also symbolizes the heavenly Father. The ancient Jews considered the bosom of Abraham as a place of security, both in life and after death. Resting in the arms of Abraham meant resting in a place where the evil one could not reach and where the just rested securely.
Christians, too, have taken this image of safety and rest in the arms of Abraham. It finds expression in the beautiful hymn “In paradisum,” in which Christians are commended to the place (the bosom of Abraham) where Lazarus is poor no longer. One of the antiphons in the final commendation says, “May angels lead you to the bosom of Abraham.”
And then came the beautiful African-American spiritual that added a rocking motion to the beautiful rest in Abraham’s arms. The spiritual life is likened to the action of a father, rhythmically rocking his child in his arms. The rocking is soothing, reassuring, and (if one is attuned to it) adds a necessary spiritual rhythm to life.
Yes, rock a my soul in the bosom of Abraham, Oh, rock a my soul. In a world of injustice and great darkness, we need the soothing rhythm of the Father’s love. We need to learn to dance and move to its rhythms and not be overcome with the tremors and evils of this world.
Consider the graceful dance in this video and seek to imitate its wisdom. Learn to move to the rhythm of the Father rocking us in His arms. Learn to move to the gentle and steady beat of God’s love as He holds us close.
Rock a my Soul …
Enjoy this video, featuring an interpretation of this beautiful and rhythmic spiritual. It is a graceful and exuberant dance showing security in God’s love and embrace.