Many religious progressives give short shrift to prayer, perhaps because the idea of prayer seems to suggest a narrow, anthropomorphic God who must be persuaded to do what we want.
The content of many prayers have this quality of evocation, a summoning of Spirit to do one’s bidding. Prayers of this kind amount to asking God (however we conceive that ultimate reality) to cater to our selfish, narrow desires and perceived needs.
The prayers of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. collected in “Thou, Dear God”: Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits (Beacon Press, 2011) are of an entirely different order. While evocations attempt to bend the Divine will to our own ends, Dr. King’s prayers were invocations of the Divine to shape his character and energize his commitment to be an instrument of divine will in bringing the Kingdom of God into reality on earth.
The public and private prayers in “Thou, Dear God” are drawn from sermons, speeches, writings, and radio broadcasts that span King’s public career. Editor Lewis V. Baldwin provides helpful historical and biographical background for each. The prayers are organized by theme into six chapters: prayers for spiritual guidance, for special occasions, for times of adversity, for strength in times of trial, for uncertain times, and for social justice.
The last chapter collects biblical verses and Christian writers who inspired Dr. King’s life and work. King’s spiritual life was informed by his understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and strongly influenced by the Social Gospel movement. But his prayers also reflect his deep respect for the core teachings of all faiths that promote social equality, economic justice, and peace.
“Thou, Dear God” is the seventh volume in The King Legacy series, published in partnership between Beacon Press and the Estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.