To pray is to dream in league with God, to envision His holy vision.
-- Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, (1907-1972) theologian and philosopher
In their longing to connect with God, human beings through the ages have prayed. They pray to adore and worship, to repent and seek forgiveness, to express gratitude and ask for help.
They also pray to mark holy days, as an estimated 1.2 billion Muslims and about 14 million Jews around the world are doing this holy season. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year -- the start of the High Holy Days -- began at sundown Wednesday. Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, prayer and charity, began Thursday.
Some worshipers recite prayers, such as the "Our Father," and others share private thoughts. Many surveys show that more than 80% of adults in the United States pray in some fashion. "Prayer is a ladder on which our thoughts mount to God," said Heschel, one of the most important Jewish thinkers of modern times.
When it comes to prayer, the famous aren't that much different from the rest of humanity, as seen in the following prayers, or portions of prayers, composed by famous figures in history. The prayers are culled from many sources, including "The Oxford Book of Prayer" and "The Communion of Saints."
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th president of the United States
Lord, give us faith that right makes might.
Grant, O merciful God, that with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as you give us to see the right, we may strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds,. . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Dag Hammarskjold (1905-1961), United Nations secretary-general
Give us a pure heart that we may see you,
A humble heart that we may hear you,
A heart of love that we may serve you,
A heart of faith that we may abide in you.
Prophet Muhammad (570-632)
O Lord, grant us to love Thee:
Grant that we may love those that love Thee:
Grant that we may do the deeds that win Thy love.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997)
Make us worthy, Lord,
To serve our fellow-men
Throughout the world who live and die
In poverty or hunger.
Give them, through our hands
This day their daily bread,
And by our understanding love,
Give peace and joy.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), German composer
O lead my spirit, O raise it from these weary depths, that ravished by your Art, it may strive upwards with tempestuous fire. For you alone have knowledge, you alone can inspire enthusiasm.
Michelangelo (1475-1564), Italian artist
Lord, make me see your glory in every place:
If mortal beauty sets my heart aglow,
Shall not that earthly fire by yours burn low
Extinguished by the great light of your grace?
Dear Lord, I cry to you for help. O raise me from the misery of this blind woe,
Your spirit alone can save me: let it flow
Through will and sense, redeeming what is base.
You have given me on earth this god-like soul,
And a poor prisoner of it you have made
Behind weak flesh-woes: from that wretched state
How can I rescue it, how my true life find?
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), civil rights leader
And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling and lift us from the dark valleys of despair to the mountains of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy; to him be power and authority, for ever and ever. Amen.
St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Society of Jesus
Take, Lord, all my liberty. Receive my memory, my understanding and my whole will. Whatever I have and possess, you have given it to me; to you I restore it wholly, and to your will I utterly surrender it for your direction. Give me the love of you only, with your grace, and I am rich enough; nor ask I anything beside.
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Indian poet and philosopher. Winner of the 1913 Nobel Prize for literature
When the heart is hard and parched up, come upon me with a shower of mercy.
When grace is lost from life, come with a burst of song.
When tumultuous work raises its din on all sides shutting me out from beyond, come to me, my lord of silence, with thy peace and rest.
When my beggarly heart sits crouched, shut up in a corner, break open the door, my king, and come with the ceremony of a king.
Aleksander I. Solzhenitsyn (1918- ), Russian novelist, winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize for literature
From the heights of earthly fame I look back in wonder at the road that led through hopelessness to this place whence I can send mankind a reflection of your radiance.
And whatever I in this life may yet reflect, that you will give me;
And whatever I shall not attain, that, plainly, you have purposed for others.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), German theologian and anti-Nazi who wrote this prayer while awaiting execution
O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you:
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way of me. . .
Restore me to liberty,
And enable me so to live now
That I may answer before you and before me.
Lord, whatever this day may bring
Your name be praised.
George Herbert (1593-1633), Welsh poet, Anglican priest and member of Parliament
You have given so much to me. Give one thing more, a grateful heart.
One in a series of occasional stories on prayer.