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"God is Real," A Sacred Hoodoo Hymn: A Black Woman Reflects on the Divine

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

By A. Oppong-Wadie, Co-Director Aba Educational Consultants 

Presented by Omni-U Virtual University



There can be no question that Black popular music has been weaponized against Black people.  We neither own nor control much or what is heard on Black radio.  The message in numerous songs offers our soul no solace, no space for serious contemplation.  Occasionally ,however, a song diverts from that path and situates itself firmly in the richness of Black culture.  Such songs have lyrics that offer us a pure text that define us as a people.  Such is the case, I submit, for India Arie’s song God is Real, recorded on her 2002, Voyage to India, album. The song is over 20 years old but, it still remains “in rotation” on the playlist of myself and others who seek greater entertainment substance. Though I have listened to the song for years, I only just recently realized its beautiful depth of meaning. For me, it offers a window into how we remain connected to the divine, even if we do not belong to, or have walked away from, the mainstream Abrahamic religions.


This essay could have easily been called, “A Sacred Obeah or Black Spirituality Hymn.  "Obeah", a term largely used in the Caribbean, basically shares the same meaning as "Hoodoo".  As Wisecup and Jaudan  describe (2015), "Obeah" and [Hoodoo] are catchall terms that commonly refer to “a range of ideas and behaviors that are not European in origin.”  In fact, Hoodoo and Obeah  distinctly refer to  African spiritual practices in the Americas.  It is of importance that Hoodoo/Obeah does not require persons to be formally trained to exercise power or to be prophetic in the tradition. In Hoodoo, your Blackness is enough to give you permission to speak your revelations, connect with your ancestry, and to perform ritual work for your own healing, protection or vengeance.  In addition, Hoodoo does not preclude you from practicing other faith traditions. Thus, it remains accessible and easily comprehensible to all Black people.  Hoodoo/Obeah, then, becomes the perfect lens from which to interpret the song, God is Real . 


I frame the song as a Hoodoo hymn (even though Arie may, herself, shy away from that term because it contains Arie’s own revelations and prophetic declarations about finding God in the natural world).  It is sacred because the Black self and culture are sacred, particularly when they are moved from the margins of our creative output and placed at the center.

India co-authored the song God is Real with Drew Ramsey and Shannon Sanders.  As the song opens, we hear India’s speaking voice saying, “Science can answer everything except the why, of the why, of the why so, the debate goes on day after day.”  We are immediately pulled into Black spirituality by Arie’s statement.  It differs from cutting edge science, in that it deals with and purports human sureties. There is no need to refine theories or throw out things we thought were true yesterday, Hoodoo findings- though old- remain true across generations.

In the first verse, Arie poetically reflects on a man she heard on the radio, sharing the difficulty that he faced in life which has led him to believe that God is not real. India queries, “How could he not believe that God is real?”  She expresses her confusion and disagreement with such short-sightedness,  stating, 


"I don’t understand how he could feel that way,


when there is earth, air, water and fire,


So many different flowers, sunshine and rain

showers


So many different crystals, ant hills and volcanoes


That is how I know God is real.


All of this is not by chance."


The proof of God, for this Black woman, is holistic and natural. All four elements are present all around us - that is proof. The depth and variety in the flower and mineral kingdom is also evidence that an unseen force is surely at work.  Arie authoritatively rules out the idea that the majestic design of nature could have happened randomly. Arie’s eloquent prose is not necessarily confirmed by any of the known holy books, however, it is no less real for a Black woman who lives and thrives in the sunshine as well as in the rain showers.  Perhaps, she may even be frightened by the fierceness of a volcano, but the volcano with its potentially deadly eruptions still evidences the presence of God.  This very different construction of divinity is centered in the Black world view. Put simply, just because life is not always pleasing to human beings does not mean that God is not real.  God is manifested by all parts of life being present - from breath-taking beauty to destructive forces.  It’s all good!


In the second verse of the song, Arie brings the listener along on a trip that she took to the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia.  On jumping in the waters of the Caribbean Sea, Arie confesses that for the first time she understood the power of water. Though not said plainly, she infers that water itself is a manifestation of God.  This idea is very much in keeping with traditional African spirituality.  Whereas our Native American brothers and sisters chant the oft heard refrain, “water is life,” from the bowels of the African lived experience comes a deeper and wider perspective. Water is a sentient being, a palpable presence that could only be divine. Water not only gives us life, but as we “wade” into it, it also unburdens us, taking from us what we no longer need, and leaves us feeling new.  Arie says it thusly,


"I felt like I was seeing for the first time, it literally changed my life.


As I swam, I was cleansed


If I had any doubts, this experience cleared them.


Now I know for sure that God is real.


I know that it is true by the way it feels."


The beautiful reliance on the soul-feel of things as the ultimate litmus test of truth, situates this verse at the beating heart of Africa/blackness/ Hoodoo/Obeah.  It has got to feel right- and sit right- in our consciousness, or it is not true at all.  Arie continues her water revelation by saying,


"I saw starfish and sponges, fish shaped like trumpets


So many different colors


I stayed down there for hours


And I only say a fraction of a fraction of


deepest of deep blue wide


It brought a tear to my eye


That is how I know that God is real


All of this is not by chance."


In the closing bridge, Arie reflects on the African principle of planes of correspondence- "as above so below".  In the Black context, we know we have encountered truth when we find harmony between the earth plane and the celestial plane; and also between our natural bodies and the planet.  In theology, this is formally called hermeneutics, named for Hermes Trismegistus, a Greek god, who is credited with the findings of the Kemetic God, Jehuty. Arie captures this pillar of African thought gracefully and intelligently in the final lines which state,


"We are made of the same things as the moon and stars


The ocean salt water- just like my tears are

You feel me?


The sun rises and sets every day without fail


That is how I know that God is real


All of this is not by chance."


In conclusion, the song God is Real records the authentic voice of the Black woman as a prophetic teacher, whose understandings emanate from her own cultural and spiritual center. Arie is fearless in her assertions. 

The mission of Hoodoo/Obeah is truly served here. These Black traditions aim to give alienated Black people on-demand access to their ancestral traditions.  There is still-unfolding genius to be found within this song.  I call it a Hoodoo hymn because it feels right in our cells, and it is recognizable- and salvific- to our souls. 


References:


Stephanie Rose Bird (2004).Sticks, Stones, Roots & Bones: Hoodoo, Mojo & Conjuring with Herbs. Llewellyn worldwide.

K., & Jaudon, T. W. (2015). On knowing and not knowing about obeah.Atlantic Studies, 129-1


Recommended Readings:


Of Water and the Spirit. by Ancestor  Malodoma Patrice Some'


Orishas, Goddesses, and Voodoo Queens: The Divine Feminine in the African Religious Tradition. by Lilith Dorsey


Voodoo and African Traditional Religion. by Lilith Dorsey 


African Spirituality: Unlocking the Power of Orishas, Yoruba, Santeria, Voodoo, and Hoodoo. by Sylvia Hill


God Is Real/ lyrics


Recommended Listening:


God Is Real, by India Arie- Simpson

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