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?

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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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