“As I went down to the river to pray,
Studying about the good ole way,
And who shall wear the robe and crown,
Good Lord show me the way.
Oh sisters lets go down
Let’s go down
Won’t you come on down,
Oh sisters let’s go down,
Down to the river to pray.” (traditional)
Early Saturday mornings in the Alabama summertime a fog rolls in over the Tennessee River. The sun barely peeks out in the east and the moon clearly visible in the west at six o’clock in the morning. The river flowing but still and clam, the trees gently sway in the breeze. A great time for newly weds to go fishing. My new husband and I readied ourselves early to go to the river. Picnic in basket we hurried to get the best fishing spot.
At 6:00 in the morning with no one else in sight we had the place to ourselves. This was the best time for fishing. As my husband got his lures ready I laid on the blanket in the cool breeze of the Alabama morning. In the distance we could hear the horn of a tug boat pushing a barge down river. My husband walked down a few feet to a deep pool to fish. The morning was so peaceful and serene. The only sounds coming from the river itself. Until, I heard singing. Lowly and softly at first it got steadily closer.
I turned around to see where this beautiful sweet song was generating from and I saw a beautiful sight. There walking across the wet grass barefooted and all dressed in white were 7 people, singing “Shall We Gather at the River”. The people were black all dressed in white with the sweetest looks on their faces. I could almost see the angels following them. I could fell the presence of the Holy Spirit.
I never said a word and they seemed not to notice me. They walked straight into the river and began baptizing 4 of the people. I was witnessing a river baptism. I had never seen that before. Just watching it was overwhelming.
I could hear the preacher saying “this symbolizes your death, burial and resurrection with Christ. You are dedicating yourself to follow Jesus and be His disciples…….”The chorus continued with shouts and hallelujahs as he spoke. “You are making a covenant with God to submit yourself to His Spirit to the point of death, dying to the old, burying the past and rising up again to live the new life given by God. Do you believe in Jesus with all your heart?”
Then he would take each one and immerse, totally submerge and overwhelm with the water. When they came back up they looked like a new creature. They had a new light, a new life.
I could almost feel the power of sin and the world being torn away from each person as they rose from the water.
I don’t think they ever noticed me sitting there. When they had finished, they walked out of the water into the fog of the morning, singing and praising Jesus. It was absolutely one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed.
A few years later the movie, “O Brother Where Art Thou” came out in theaters. The scene with the people in white walking through the woods to the river singing reminded me so much of what I had seen that day on the river.