Isaiah 40:31 says that those who wait for the Lord shall mount up with wings like eagles. There are many versions of a folktale about enslaved people rising up and flying to freedom. The story probably originated in West Africa and has been passed down through the years in the African-American community.
The Rev. Otis Moss tells one version of this story in which a young woman with a small child collapses from the heat and labor of picking cotton. The child tries to rouse her with no success. An elderly man known as the Preacher and Prophet comes over and whispers into her ear, “Coolebah!” a West African word for God. She stands up, takes her child’s hand, rises into the air, and flies away. The Preacher speaks the word to many others, and they rise up and fly. Moss concludes, “When we get the word of God in us, we fly.” You can read this version of the story in its entirety here.
Children’s author Virginia Hamilton tells another version of the story called The People Could Fly. You can find this story on its own in picture book format, and also in Hamilton’s anthology entitled The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales. Both formats are beautifully illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon.
Otis Moss asks a question that we church folk need to ponder: “Are we a part of a church, are we part of a ministry that causes people to fly?”