By The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
In his autobiography, Howard Thurman begins by telling the story of wordlessness. He was called to the bedside of a dying man, and asked by the nurse, “Do you have something to say to a man who is dying? If you have please say it, and say it in a hurry.” But all there was was wordlessness, silence. He says “I bowed my head, closed my eyes. There were no words. I poured out the anguish of my desperation in one vast effort. I felt physically I was straining to reach God. At last I whispered my Amen.” Some days our prayers are like that. No words come. No words and yet our wordlessness is in fact the exact thing that connects us so desperately to God.
I suppose today’s prayer could in fact be simply Howard Thurman’s “Amen.” It was the only word he spoke in the story above, the only word that came. But instead I leave you with another prayer he wrote in his long ministry as a deeply influential African American civil rights leader, preacher, writer, and theologian. The prayer below comes from Thurman’s collection of essays called “Meditations of the Heart.” It is the kind of prayer that is powerful to read aloud. It has a cadence, a rhythm, a feel that resonates in your body. In fact it is stunning to read aloud in a crowd of people gathered to worship, something we so deeply miss these days. So read it aloud and let his words echo within your body as you seek that innate connection with the mystery of God.
Let us pray:
Open unto me—joy for my sorrow.
Open unto me—strength for my weakness.
Open unto me—wisdom for my confusion.
Open unto me—forgiveness for my sins.
Open unto me—tenderness for my toughness.
Open unto me—love for my hates.
Open unto me—Thy self for my self.
Lord, Lord, open unto me!
—Howard Thurman, 1899–1981