(Note to reader: Following is a Christmas meditation punctuated by verses from the original salvation song, Michael Row the Boat Ashore, as sung by Gullah people on St. Helena Island and written in Gullah dialect. The popular version you know has been rewritten for other means from the original Gullah song.)
Low, grunting bellows from cattle forewarned His coming. Clicking clops of donkey hooves stepped in rhythm. A star above stilled the sky by sight and shining. What must come will come. A baby’s cry pierced the night. He came. Then, the earth turned and turned and we found out who we were and what we were. With each turning, Michael rowed the boat ashore a little more.
Michael row de boat asho, Hallelujah! Michael boat a gospel boat, Hallelujah!
What happened? What did it all mean? A birth, a life, a ministry—no—a life, a Savior came to save, came and pierced the night while the earth turned and turned. Did we hear? Did we see? Did we get in the boat to cross the river? Or was it another boat, another river we chose?
O you mind your boastin’ talk, Boastin’ talk will sink your soul, Brudder lend a helpin’ hand, Sister, help for trim dat boat.
Life, the wide and deep we cross, a gulf narrowed by His birth, His life, a Cross. How do we get there but by the gospel boat, by daily renewal in His presence, by listening to what He is saying, to where He is leading. Ours is to become different, set apart, not in the mainstream of human reaction, outside passions and cynicisms. This is Gospel, this is meaning, a birth meaning. He calls us in so many ways, so many piercing cries and shining stars by the name grace.
Jordan stream is wide and deep. Jedus stand on the oder side.
Jesus is on the other side. Still, we paper and layer that night with tinsel and garland, light bulbs and neon and meanings all too shallow. His birth, its meaning, cannot be rewritten. Somehow, some way, beneath the layers, the faithful remember and all is not lost. I saw this one Christmas eve when the church congregation sang Silent Night. A mother leaned and whispered in her child’s ear explaining it all. A cry, a light, pierced the night, a silent night, again.
I wonder where my mudder deh. [there] See my mudder on de rock gwine home. On de rock gwine home in Jedus’ name. Michael boat a music boat.
What should we do but wonder at it all and live in the hope piercing our not-so-silent night.
Gabriel blow de trumpet horn. I wonder if my maussa deh. My fader gone to unknown land. O de Lord he plant his garden deh. He raise de fruit for you to eat. He dat eat shall neber die. When de riber overflow. O poor sinner, how you land? Riber run and darkness comin’.
Sinner row to save your soul.
Keep rowing all ye faithful Christians. A Holy Christmas to all!