Prayer-Wheels in Southern Gospel

I was recently listening to a Florida Boys song entitled “Over There.” A few of the lines in the song state:

I’ve got me a fire
Gonna keep it burning
I’ve got me a light
Gonna let it shine
I’ve got me a prayer-wheel
Gonna keep it turning…

This, of course, brings to mind the more famous lines in the song “Just a Little Talk with Jesus”:

Now when you feel a little prayer-wheel turning
And you know a little fire is burning
You will find a little talk with Jesus makes it right

References to prayer wheels invariably catch my attention, because the only prayer wheels I know about are those of the Tibetan Buddhists. In their religion, spinning the wheel has the same effect as actually praying.

Chances are that the Florida Boys song was based on the ideas found in “Just a Little Talk with Jesus.” But what on earth was on Cleavant Derricks’ mind when he wrote that classic song? Had Buddhism permeated small-town Christianity to that extent back in the 1930s? Or is there a Christian explanation for those lines?

* * *

Some will say that I have no right to bring up issues of possible doctrinal concern in Southern Gospel lyrics. In response, let me quote something Jerry Kirksey wrote in the August 1995 Singing News:

Southern Gospel is not just four guys singing four-part harmony. … What makes it Southern Gospel is not the style and not the number of people; it is that the lyrics contain the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What makes it Southern Gospel is a message as bold as the messages written by the apostle Paul, proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord, Jesus Christ is Salvation, Jesus Christ is the way, the only way. No one comes unto the Father except through Jesus. That is the message of Southern Gospel Music.

In other words, what makes a song a Southern Gospel song is its lyrics. Since that is the case, I consider a song’s lyrics to be a legitimate topic of discussion.

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6 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. GospelMusicFan,

    Let me assure you that I will not use this blog to start or take part in discussions of denominational differences. If it is true that prayer wheels are exclusively or almost exclusively Buddhist, I would consider that worthy of comment. But I have no intention of starting or becoming involved in discussions of predestination, once saved always saved, millennial views, or other touchy issues in this blog.

  2. We plowed this ground a couple of years ago on another message board. It was pretty much concluded that Rev. Derricks was NOT (repeat NOT) making a reference to Buddhism but ” Anyway, the prayer wheel he was referring to was a phrase that came from Black slaves and described the feeling in their spirit when the Holy Spirit”
    Source: [EDIT, 11/8/10: The link appears to be down, and has been removed.]

    This sort of stuff reminds me of those who are looking for Satanic messages on product labels – an exercise in futility.

  3. Treading shaky grounds when we start discussing doctrinal issues in southgern gospel. There are many denominational doctrines that distinguished the fan base of southern gospel.
    Lets not go into the area what divides us but what Jerry reminded us that Jesus Christ as our Lord,
    I heard of prayer wheels in my bringing up and never knew about the Buddhists and prayer wheels.
    I will give you credit for your research and educated mind that some of us wish God has given us.

  4. That is fascinating. I did not know that. Unfortunately, the discussion on the other message board must have predated my time, because I had not heard that before.

    Sorry for asking a question that was already answered!

  5. Daniel – I think you folded too quickly. This topic – song lyrics – is a big deal to me. If it weren’t for the words, Southern Gospel Music would be nothing other than country or pop music. It is the words that make it special and put it the music on a higher plane.

    I heard a song lately (you may know the song better than I do) that used the clever idea “The keys to heaven are hanging on three nails”. It’s a nice word picture, but if it were to be scripturally accurate, it should be “The KEY (singular) to heaven WAS (past tense) hanging on three nails”.

    It may sound like I’m nit-picking, but it’s important! One of my most influential choir directors made us all read the words of the song that we were about to sing in spoken voice before putting notes to it. His point – we sing ideas, not just words to music. We needed to figure out the phrasing, sentance structure, where to breathe, etc. before we could sing a note.

    When we did this exercise for the Christmas carol “Silent Night”, it finally made sense to me. Usually we sing this carol as follows:

    Silent Night
    Holy Night
    All is Calm
    All is Bright
    Round yon Virgin
    Mother and Child
    Holy Infant so tender and mild…

    I never knew what “Round yon Virgin” meant until we sang it this way:

    Silent Night, Holy Night,
    All is calm, all is bright (a)round yon Virgin Mother and Child.

    Sorry for the long post. This has me all fired up – maybe I need a blog!

  6. Bob, I appreciate your perspective. (Thanks for explaining “Silent Night,” incidentally!) Here is why I “folded,” to borrow your term: I am at heart a peace-loving person. I like to make my point, but I don’t like to be involved in protracted, drawn-out fights. So I describe my perspective and make my point, let anyone who disagrees disagree, and perhaps comment on that. But I’ll rarely take it farther.

    I want this blog to be thought-provoking, but not somewhere you go to watch bitter disputes. So when someone I really respect (like Dean Adkins) weighs in, I might comment on his viewpoint, but I’m not going to attack him head-on. (Plus, he did have a pretty reasonable explanation for it.)

    Lyrics are vitally important, though, and close attention is necessary.