Gathering at the River

The story is told in Acts 16 about Paul and his companions going to the river in Philippi because they learned there was to be a prayer meeting there. “We took our place with the women who had gathered there and talked to them. One woman, Lydia, was from Thyatira and a dealer in expensive textiles, known to be a God-fearing woman. As she listened with intensity to what was being said, the Lord gave her a trusting heart – and she believed.” At that point Lydia and her entire household were baptized. Lydia was a Gentile and she gathered with other women who were worshipping the God of Israel. After her baptism she became a leader in the church of Philippi.

“At the River to Pray”
Lydia went to the river to pray.
She sought the quiet and hidden place near running water.
She knew that by the river she would find the presence of God.,
a God who would give comfort, rest, courage, joy and peace
from that living water that quenches all thirst and is available to all.

Ronald Cole-Turner writes in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2:
“Longing and grace met there on the bank of the river. The longing heart of a faithful woman is opened by the gracious impulse of a faith-giving God in an action that, like the incarnation itself is at once fully human fully divine. God opened her heart and immediately she opened her home. Apparently without any hesitation, she turns her house into a base for the spread of Christianity in Europe…Unlike so many of us, Lydia sees the truth before her and decides what course to take, and it is done.”

There are several old and new hymns that tell this story and remind us that our restless longing and thirsting soul can be blest and filled by the living water given be God.

“Down to the River to Pray”
“As I went down to the river to pray,
studyin’ about the good ole way
and who shall wear the starry crown,
good Lord, show me the way.
O sisters, let’s go down, let’s go down, come on down
Come on, sister, let’s go down, down to the river to pray”
~ Southern folk song

“My Prayer Rises to Heaven”
“As the thirsty earth looks to heaven
for life giving rain to save flower and tree,
so I raise my hands high in prayer:
assured that my thirst will always be in your sight”
~ Dao Kim

“We Are the Water”
“Let us be the water
soft and yielding, strong and true.
Let us be the water of truth
Let us be the water of kindness
Let us be the water of beauty
Let us be the water of light
Let us be the water of service
Let us be the water of Spirit
We are the water.
~ Ellen Stapenhorst

Yes, we are the water given as living water by Jesus. Go to the river and pray to be that water in our world.

Joyce D. Sohl, Laywoman-in-Residence


Joyce D. Sohl has been Laywoman-in-Residence since 2009 as a full-time volunteer. She retired as CEO of United Methodist Women in 2004. She is the author of 4 books, a teacher, retreat leader, writer and non-professional musician. Here at the Center her work is in the area of Spirituality & the Arts with such programs as Tuesdays in the Chapel, Vespers & All That Jazz, Poet’s Corner, quarterly retreats, and art exhibits.

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