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Exploring the God Concept in the Prayers of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Forgive Us for What We Could Have Been but Failed to Be”

O thou Eternal God, out of whose absolute power and in- finite intelligence the whole universe has come into being. We humbly confess that we have not loved thee with our hearts, souls and minds, and we have not loved our neigh- bors as Christ loved us. We have all too often lived by our own selfish impulses rather than by the life of sacrificial love as revealed by Christ. We often give in order to receive, we love our friends and hate our enemies, we go the first mile but dare not travel the second, we forgive but dare not forget. And so as we look within ourselves we are confronted with the appalling fact that the history of our lives is the history of an eternal revolt against thee. But thou, O God, have mercy upon us. Forgive us for what we could have been but failed to be. Give us the intelligence to know thy will. Give us the courage to do thy will. Give us the devotion to love thy will. In the name and spirit of Jesus we pray. Amen. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. From "Thou, Dear God": Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits.


Lewis Baldwin, credit to Daniel DuboisLewis V. Baldwin is professor of religious studies at Vanderbilt University and an ordained Baptist minister. An expert on black-church traditions, he is author of The Voice of Conscience: The Church in the Mind of Martin Luther King, Jr.; There Is a Balm in Gilead: The Cultural Roots of Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. He is the editor of "Thou, Dear God": Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits, the first and only collection of prayers by Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Spirituality as a Relationship with a Higher Power: Exploring the God Concept in the Prayers of Martin Luther King, Jr.


Prayer as a spiritual practice connected the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with that profoundly powerful and pervasive spiritual force that created and sustains the universe. This is evident from even a casual reading of King's prayers for all seasons, which are provided in a rich and handsome volume called, "Thou, Dear God": Prayers that Open Hearts and SpiritsKing often spoke of God as his "divine companion," and of walking and talking with this God in the midst of his daily routines and struggles. The prayers in this volume are directed toward that Supreme Being to whom King commonly bowed, especially in times when he felt helpless, vulnerable, and in need of courage and guidance. The prayers show that King had an inner sense of something greater than himself, and he was clearly not hesitant about expressing his dependence and/or reliance upon the God of the universe. Generally speaking, the prayers in "Thou, Dear God" take the reader beyond questions about King's own relationship to God to the larger issue of what the divine-human relationship might entail. Thus, they challenge us to come to terms with our own consciousness about that larger and more powerful reality that ultimately brings what King termed "the disjointed elements of all reality into a harmonious whole."

Photo of Lewis V. Baldwin by Daniel Dubois.


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