The prayers of these Americans are intimate snapshots of how they dealt with the gamut of human emotions, conditions, and events they experienced. They found comfort, hope, and the ability simply to endure by turning to God in their often unpredictable lives.
While the language of these prayers may vary from era to era, the essence remains the same. Americans from all walks of life and faiths have found their existences incomplete without being able to reach out to a higher power. It is through the words of their prayers that they find purpose in a larger context and from a greater perspective.
—James P. Moore Jr.
Since its inception, America has remained a deeply religious and spiritual nation, fostering a prayer culture that has thrived among its diverse population and its wide-ranging faith traditions.
The Treasury of American Prayers brings together hundreds of prayers composed largely by Americans from all walks of life to create an unparalleled and comprehensive collection of “home-grown” expressions of spirituality and religious conviction. These prayers form an inspiring portrait of the country’s rich and profound faith and provide access to the innermost thoughts of such individuals as Benjamin Franklin, Elvis Presley, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Conrad Hilton. They have helped sustain Americans in times of war and recession as well as in periods of change and even prosperity.
Jim Moore has compiled an extraordinary anthology in The Treasury of American Prayers, arranged by such topics as patience, thanksgiving, despair, love, and other timeless themes. He provides context, historical perspective, and a personal insight for each prayer. While this collection reflects the great history of the American experience, these prayers also hold great resonance for Americans today.
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LOVE AND DEVOTION
Earth our mother, breathe forth life
All night sleeping
In the east
Now see the dawn.
Earth our mother, breathe and waken
Leaves are stirring
All things moving
New day coming
Eagle soaring, see the morning
See the new mysterious morning
Something marvelous and sacred
Though it happens every day
Dawn the child of God and Darkness
This prayer has been handed down for generations among members of the Pawnee tribe in modern-day Kansas. It is an invocation of renewal and wonderment at the beginning of each new day.
Prayer of Chief Seattle
Earth mother, star mother,
You who are called by
A thousand names,
May all remember
We are cells in your body
And dance together
You are the grain
And the loaf
That sustains each day,
And as you are patient
With our struggles to learn
So shall we be patient
With ourselves and each other.
We are radiant light
And sacred dark
You are the embrace that heartens
And the freedom beyond fear.
Within you we are born
We grow, live, and die--
You bring us around the circle
To rebirth, Within us you dance
Composed by Chief Seattle in the early nineteenth century, this tribute gives glory to creation and nature's continual regeneration. Chief Seattle was the leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes, located in today's Washington State. The city of Seattle was named in his honor.
Prayer at Dawn
Blessed be the light of day
And the Holy Cross, we say;
And the Lord of the Verity
And the Holy Trinity.
Blessed be th' immortal soul
And the Lord who keeps it whole,
Blessed be the light of day
And He who sends the night away.
Each morning as they crossed the Atlantic, Christopher Columbus and his men were awakened by this chant sung by one of the young mates on board. It was one in a series of prayers that was invoked at specific times during the day, creating discipline among the men while they praised God in hopes of safe passage.
Rise, O My Soul
Rise, O my soul, with thy desires to heaven,
And with divinest contemplation use
Thy time where time's eternity is given,
And let vain thoughts no more thy
To thee, O Jesu, I direct my eyes;
To thee my hands, to thee my humble knees;
To thee my heart shall offer sacrifice;
To thee my thoughts, who my thoughts only sees;
To thee my self--my self and all I give;
To thee I die; to thee I only live.
Having led one of the more colorful and accomplished lives among the courtiers of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh wrote this prayer when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for unproven crimes. Although he would never set eyes on the New World, he was a critical force in the British settlement of Virginia. His deep faith would endear him to many of America's earliest colonists, and this invocation would become part of The Book of Common Prayer of America's Episcopal Church.
En Este Nuevo Dia
En este neuvo dia
gracias te tributamos,
oh, Dios omnipotente,
Senor de todo lo creado...
Por ti nacen las flores
y reverdece el campo,
los arboles dan fruta
y el sol nos da sus rayos...
Dirige Dios immenso
y guia nuestros pasos
para que eternamente
tu santa ley sigamos.
On This New Day
On this new day
thanks we pay in tribute
oh, omnipotent God,
Lord of all creation...
For you the flowers grow
and the countryside turns green,
and trees give fruit
and the sun gives us your rays...
Immense God direct
and guide our steps
so that eternally
We follow your holy law.
When the Franciscan priests of Spain established their missions throughout the western United States, they composed hundreds of "alabados" for their indigenous congregations. These prayers were set to melodies that echoed the sounds of Jewish and Arabic chants mixed with Flamenco music. Not only did these hymns express praise to God, but they also taught the faithful the tenets of their religious faith.
Love and Adoration
O my Lord, my love, how wholly delectable thou art! Let him [Jesus] kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for his love is sweeter than wine: how lovely is thy countenance! How pleasant are thy embraces! My heart leaps for joy when I hear the voice of thee my Lord, my love, when thou sayest to my soul, thou art her salvation. O my God, my king, what am I but dust! A worm, a rebel, and thine enemy was I, wallowing in the blood and filth of my sins, when thou didst cast the light of Countenance upon me, when thou spread over me the lap of thy love, and saidest that I should live...
John Winthrop, the single greatest influence in founding and governing the Massachusetts Bay Colony in its early years, wrote a series of prayers in the daily entries of his diary. In time his affection for Christ became all the more profoudn, as this prayer shows. He blieved that the more he prayed, the more he came to be "enaurored."
For Love of Others
Lord, make my Tongue, a Tree of Life!
Living Christianity's Golden Rule was central to the faith of Reverend Cotton Mather and to his leading a loving, redemptive life. Although he would become a catalyst in advancing the Salem witch trials, he nonetheless firmly believed in the message of his spiritual ejaculation.
A Crumb of Dust
Lord, can a crumb of dust the earth outweigh,
Outmatch all mountains, nay the crystal sky?
Imbosom in't designs that shall display
And trace into the boundless deity?
Yea, hand a pen whose moisture doth glid o'er
Eternal glory with a glorious glore.
If it is pen had of an angel's quill,
And sharpened on a precious stone ground tight,
And dipped in liquid gold, and moved by skill
In crystal leaves should golden letters write,
It would but blot and blur, yea, jag and jar,
Unless Thou mak'st the pen and scribener.
I am this crumb of dust which is designed
To make my pen unto Thy praise alone,
And my dull fancy I would gladly grind
Unto an edge on Zion's precious stone;
And write in liquid gold upon Thy name
My letters till Thy glory forth doth flame.
Let not th' attempts break down my dust I pray,
Nor laugh Thou them to scorn, but pardon give.
Inspire this crumb of dust till it display
Thy glory though't: and then Thy dust shall live.
Its failings then Thou'lt overlook, I trust,
They being slips slipped from Thy crumb of dust.
Thy crumb of dust breathes two words from its breast,
That Thou wilt guide its pen to write aright
To prove Thou art and that Thou art the best
And shew Thy prosperities to shine most bright.
And then Thy works will shine as flowers on stems
Or as in jewelary shops do gems.
One of the most eloquent spiritual voices during the American colonial period was that of Reverend Edward Taylor, a physician and Congregational minister. Like most of the metaphysical prayers he wrote, this one was composed for his Sunday Eucharist services in Westfield, Massachusetts. When his collection of Eucharistic prayers was discovered in the archives at Yale University just before World War II, historians gained far greater insight into the sophisticated world of Puritan America.
Great God of Wonders
Great God of wonders! All Thy ways
Are worthy of thyself--divine;
But the bright glories of Thy grace
Among thine other wonders shine;
Who is pard'ning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
As the fourth president of Princeton (then known as the College of New Jersey) Samuel Davies worked arduously to deliver inspiring sermons to the student body. He always made sure that he accompanied his sermons with a prayer of some kind. While some conservative clergymen criticized him for composing invocations rather than turning exclusively to the Psalms he was undeterred and would write over a hundred such prayers. This particular prayer was later set to music and became his most famous.
Thoughts on the Work of Providence
Arise, my soul, on wings enraptur'd, rise
To praise the monarch of the earth and skies,
Whose goodness and beneficence appear
As round its centre moves the rolling year...
Almighty, in these wond'rous works of thine,
What Pow'r, what Wisdom, and what Goodness shine!
And are thy wonders, Lord, by men explor'd,
And yet creating glory unador'd...
Shall day to day, and night to night conspire
To show the goodness of the Almighty Sire?
This mental voice shall man regardless hear,
And never, never raise the filial pray'r?
To-day, O hearken, nor your folly mourn
For time mispent, that never will return...
Infinite Love where'er we turn our eyes
Appears: this ev'ry creature's wants supplies;
This most is heard in Nature's constant voice,
This makes the morn, and this the eve rejoice;
This bids the fost'ring rains and dews descend
To nourish all, to serve one gen'ral end,
The good of man: yet man ungrateful pays
But little homage, and but little praise.
To him, whose works arry'd with mercy shine,
What songs should rise, how constant, how divine!
Phillis Wheatley, born in Senegal around 1753 and sold to a Boston family at the age of seven, was as precocious as any young girl of her age. The family, recognizing her talents, soon began teaching her how to read and write English, Latin, and Greek. In turn, she took delight in writing her own poetry and personally poignant essays. Deeply religious, she composed several touching spiritual pieces, among them the prayer that is excerpted here.
I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blessed Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God.
Her walls before Thee stand
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And written on Thy hand.
Should I wish coffers join
Her altars to abuse?
No! Better far my tongue were dumb,
My hand its skill should lose.
Believed to be the oldest American hymn still in common use, these lyrics were composed by the eminent president of Yale University Timothy Dwight. During his days as a young chaplain in the Revolutionary War, he forged enduring friendships with many of the Founding Fathers and became known in his later years for strongly advocating the need for prayer, particularly among families, in the early days of the new republic.
In Praise of Thee
Lord with glowing heart I'd praise Thee
For the bliss Thy love bestows,
For the pardoning grace that saves me,
And the peace that from it flows:
Help, O God, my weak endeavor;
This dull soul to rapture raise:
Thou must light the flame, or never
Can my love be warmed to praise.
Praise, my soul, the God who sought thee,
Wretched wand'rer far astray;
Found thee lost, and kindly brought thee
From the paths of death away:
Praise, with love's devoutest feeling,
Him who saw thy guilt-born fear,
And, the light of hope revealing,
Bade the bloodstained cross appear.
Praise thy Saviour God that drew thee
Top that cross, new life to give,
Held a blood-sealed pardon to Thee,
Bade Thee look to him and live:
Praise the grace whose threats alarmed Thee,
Roused Thee from thy fatal ease,
Praise the grace whose promise warm'd Thee,
Praise the grace that whispered peace.
Lord, this bosom's ardent feeling
Vainly would my lips express:
Low before Thy footstool kneeling,
Deign thy suppliant's pray'r to bless:
Let Thy love, my soul's chief treasure,
Love's pure flame within me raise;
And, since words can never measure,
Let my life show forth Thy praise.
Francis Scott Key, the composer of "The Star-Spangled Banner," was also one of America's first lawyers to argue cases before the Supreme Court, and strongly believed in the cause of justice and in the guiding hand of God in all things. This prayer of unconditional devotion was published in a compilation of his poetry, which was released eighteen years after his death.
Lord of All Worlds
Lord of all worlds, let thanks and praise
To Thee forever fill my soul;
With blessings Thou has crowned my days,
My heart, my head, my hand control:
O, let no vain presumptions rise,
No impious murmur in my heart,
To crave the boon Thy will denies,
Or shrink from ill Thy hands impart.
Thy child am I, and not an hour,
Revolving in the orbs above,
But brings some token of Thy power,
But brings some token of Thy love;
And shall this bosom dare repine,
In darkness dare deny the dawn,
Or spurn the treasures of the mine,
Because one diamond is withdrawn?
The fool denies, the fool alone,
Thy being, Lord and boundless might;
Denies the firmament, Thy throne,
Denies the sun's meridian light,
Denies the fashion of his frame.
The voice he hears, the breath he draws:
O idiot atheist! To proclaim
Effects unnumbered without cause!
Matter and mind, mysterious one,
Are man's for threesome years and ten;
Where, ere the thread of life was spun?
Where, when reduced to dust again?
All-seeing God, the doubt suppress;
The doubt then only canst relieve
My soul Thy Saviour-Son shall bless,
Fly to my gospel, and believe.
After leaving office as the sixth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams spent the last twenty years of his life serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Quincy, Massachusetts. In his spare time and during long-winded ovations by his colleague in the House Chamber, he immersed himself in writing, among other things, a series of intensely personal prayers. This piece was included in a collection of his works entitled Poems of Religion and Society, which was published after his death by Senators Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri and John Davis of Massachusetts.
My Soul Triumphant Wakes
Thou art the dawn to my blessed sight
That o'er the mountain breaks
Already by thy holy light
My soul triumphant wakes
We know thy growing light a sign
The sun himself is nigh;
The sun of Righteousness divine
Ascends the glorious sky...
Brighter and brighter grows the cross
The mountain-tops are gold
And o'er death's valley far across
The gorgeous light is rolled.
The nineteenth-century artists who belonged to the movement known as the Hudson River School believed that God had shown great favor to America, especially in endowing its land with such natural beauty. To give expression to that spiritual manifestation, these artists painted spectacular, idealized landscapes that captured lush vistas with thick forests, gushing streams, and imposing mountains. Thomas Cole, the founder of the school, would write a prayer to accompany "the divine visual language" contained in each of his printings, of which this is one.
The Catholic Hymn
Sancta Maria! turn thine eyes--
Upon the sinner's sacrifice,
Of fervent prayer and humble love,
From thy holy throne above.
At morn--at noon--at twilight dim
Maria! thou hast heard my hymn!
In joy and woe--in good and ill--
Mother of God, be with me still!
When the Hours flew brightly by,
And not a cloud obscured the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be,
Thy grace did guide to thine and thee;
Now, when storms of Fate o'ercast
Darkly my Present and my Past,
Let my Future radiant shine
With sweet hopes of thee and thine!
In his dark short story "Morella" written in 1835, Edgar Allan Poe included this prayer to convey the mysticism of his central character, Morella. In his original manuscript he referred to the prayer as "the Catholic Hymn," but when it was published again in 1845 in The Raven and Other Poems, he struck out the word "Catholic." Regardless of the change, he found Christ's Mother, to be the perfect conduit to God.
Love and Hate
The sole thing I hate is Hate;
For hate is death; and Love is life,
A peace, a splendor from above;
And Hate, a never ending strife,
A smoke, a blackness from the abyss
Where unclean spirits coil and hiss!
Love is the Holy Ghost within;
Hate the unpardonable sin!
Who preaches otherwise than this
Betrays his Master with a kiss!
In this excerpt from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's trilogy "The Christus: A Mystery," the great nineteenth-century poet reflects in old age on his spiritual life and beliefs by considering the life of Christ in the apostolic, Middle, and modern ages. This piece, which was both prayer and contemplation, puts love and its alternative in perspective.