Down to the River to Pray

Weekly Reflection, Friday, January 22

By: Amelia McDaniel

Oh Jonah! That was the theme of Vacation Bible School way back in the early 2000’s when I was at Christ Church in Raleigh (and the theme here at St. Mary’s in 2019, but this is a Raleigh memory). The story of Jonah and the whale is perfect for VBS. There is a compelling character who gets himself in a bad situation because he has a hard time listening to God and understanding how expansive God’s love truly is. God intervenes. Jonah still gets mad. And then Jonah eventually gets it right. This could be the story of just about any of us.

The kids loved the story of Jonah. What I hadn’t bargained for was how much they were going to love learning the song, Down to the River to Pray, that we included in the curriculum. It’s an old song that probably originated in Appalachia. It became popular in the last 20 years when Alison Krause’s version was included on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.

As I went down in the river to pray, studying about that good old way
and who shall wear the robe and crown Good Lord show me the way.
Oh sisters let’s go down, let’s go down, don’t you want to go down.
Come on sisters let’s go down. Down to the River to pray.

This song was clearly their favorite and was chosen for them to sing to the congregation on the Sunday after VBS. Rather than make the children go up to the front to sing, we decided we would make it the communion song. And the kids would sing from their seats while sitting amongst their families.

When it came time to sing, you could see the kids sit up straighter in their pews. The organ played the intro and then they belted it out. Their perfect little voices filled the whole church. And they sang out with each verse as it changed from sisters let’s go down, to brothers, to mothers, to fathers. The adults turned to these precious children in awe. It was glorious!

It’s a beautiful song of invitation. An invitation to the fullness of living with God’s love. Something Jonah needed for sure. Something all of us need. God continues in the midst of our daily lives to invite us to listen, to follow, and to obey even when we do not quite understand what is being asked of us. Even if our hearts are slow to understand just how much God loves each and every one of us who were made in His image.