American Unitarian Conference

Promoting the American Unitarian Tradition

 

Back to Classical Unitarian Writings page

Prayers of Theodore Parker

February 5, 1854 (pages 30-32)

OUR Father who art in heaven, and on earth, and near unto every heart, we flee unto thee, seeking to feel thy presence, and, conscious of thee, to know thee as thou art, and to worship thee with all our mind and conscience and heart and soul. We seek to commune with thy Spirit for a moment, that we may freshen our hearts, tired with the world's journey and sore travel, and bow our faces down and drink again at the living waters of thy life. O Thou Infinite One, we reverence thee, who art the permanent in things that change, the foundation of what lasts, the loveliness of things beautiful, and the wisdom and the justice and the love which make and hold and bless all this world of matter and of men. O Thou who art without variableness or turning shadow, we thank thee that thou needest not our poor prayers to teach thee of our need, nor askest thou our supplication's argument to quicken thy mercy or to stir thy love. Thou anticipatest before we call, and doest more and better for us than we can ever ask or think.

O Father, who adornest the summer and cheerest the winter with thy presence, we thank thee that we know that thou art our Father, and our Mother, that thou foldest in thine arms all the worlds which thou least made, and warmest with thy mother's breath each mote that peoples the sun's beams, and blessest every wandering, erring child of man.

O Lord, how marvellous is thy loving-kindness and thy tender mercy, which thou spreadest out over matter and beast and man. In loving-kindness least thou made them all, and in tender mercy thou watchest over the wanderings of the world, blessing those that sorrow, and recalling such as go astray. Oh, whither can we flee from thy presence? If we take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead us, and thy right hand shall hold us up. Yea, Lord, our transgression hideth us not from thee ; but thine eye seeth in sin as in righteousness, and when our own hearts cry out against us, thou, who art greater than our heart, still takest us up, bearest us on thy wings, and blessest us with thine infinite love.

Father, we remember before thee our several wants and conditions in life, and we thank thee for the happiness that crowns our days, for the success that attends our efforts here on earth, the brightness that we gather in our homes, and the hearts whose beating is the music round our fireside and their countenance the blessing on our daily bread. We thank thee for these things wherein our hearts rejoice.

But we remember also in our prayer the world's sternness and severity, the sorrows that stain our face with weeping, and make our hearts sometimes run over with our sadness, and our deep distress. Father, if we cannot thank thee for the things that we suffer, we still will thank thee that we know that thine eye pities us in our sorrows, and no sadness stains our face but thou

knewest it before we were born, and gatherest the tears which we shed, and changest them into glorious pearls, to shine in our crown of glory as morning stars that herald the coming of the heavenly kingdom here below.

We pray thee that we may find comfort in every sorrow, and when the world turns its cold, hard eye upon us, when the mortal fades from our grasp, and the shadow of death falls on the empty seat of child or wife or friend, O Lord, by the shining of thy candle in our heart, may we see our way through darkness unto light, and journey from strength to strength, our hearts still stayed on thee.

Help us to grow stronger and nobler by this world's varying good and ill, and while we enlarge the quantity of our being by continual life, may we improve its kind and quality not less, and become fairer, and tenderer, and heavenlier too, as we leave behind us the various events of our mortal life. So, Father, may we grow in goodness and in grace, and here on earth attain the perfect measure of a complete man. And so in our heart, and our daily life, may thy kingdom come, and thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.

November 27, 1856. (Pages 33 -37)

Thanksgiving Day

THOU Infinite Spirit, who art everywhere that the light of day sheds down its glorious lustre, and in the caverns of the earth where the light of day cometh not, we would draw near to thee and worship thy spirit, which at all times is near to us. O Thou Infinite One, who art amidst all the silences of nature, and forsakest us not with thy spirit where the noisy feet of men are continually heard, we pray thee that the spirit of prayer may be in us while we lift up our hearts unto thee. Thou askest not even our gratitude, but when our cup is filled with blessings to the brim and runneth over with bounties, we would remember thee who fillest it, and givest every good and precious gift. Father, we thank thee for the special material blessings which we enjoy; for the prosperity which has attended the labors of thy children in the months that are past, for the harvest of corn and of grass which the band of man, obedient to his toilsome thought, has gathered up from the surface of the ground. We bless thee that when our toll has spoken to the earth, the furrows of the field have answered with sufficient, yea, with abundant returns of harvest to our hand. We thank thee for the blessings of the deep, and treasures bid in the sands, which thy children have gathered. We bless thee for the success which, has come to those who go down to the sea in ships and do business in great waters. We thank thee for the treasures which our mining hand has gathered from the foldings of the earth, the wealth which we have quarried from the mountain, or digged out from the bosom of the ground. And we bless thee for the other harvests which from these rude things the toilsome band and the laborious thought of men have created, turning, use into beauty also, and so adorning and gladdening the world.

We thank thee for the special blessings that come near to us this day. We bless thee for the health of our bodies, and we thank thee for those who are near and dear to us; and for all the gladsome gatherings together which this day will bring to pass, of parents and their children, long severed, or of the lover and his beloved, who so gladly would become one. We bless thee for all those who this day shall break their bread in common, lifting up their hearts unto thee, and blessing the hand which lengthens out our days and keeps the golden bowl from breaking at the fountain ; and we thank thee for those who in many a distant place are still of us, severed in the body, but with us yet in soul.

We remember before thee not only our families and our homes, but likewise the great country in which thou hast cast the lines of our lot. We thank thee for its wide extent, for the great riches which the toil of man has here gathered togther and stored up. We bless thee for the multitudes of people, an exceeding great company of men and women, who here have sprung into existence under thy care. We bless thee that in this land the exile from so many a clime can find a home, with none to molest nor to make him afraid. We thank thee for every good institution which has here been established, for all the truth that is taught in the church, for what of justice has become the common law of the people, and for all of righteousness and of benevolence which goes forth in the midst of our land.

We bless thee for our fathers who in centuries past, in the name of' thy holy spirit, and for the sake of rights dearest to mankind, went from one country to another people, and in their day of small things came here. Yea, we thank thee for those whose only communion was an exile, and we bless thee for the bravery of their spirit which would not hang the harp on the willow, but sung songs of thanksgiving in a strange land, and in the midst of their wilderness builded a new Zion up, full of thanksgiving and song and praise. We bless thee for our fathers of a nearer kin, who in a day of peril strove valiantly that they might be free, and bequeathed a noble heritage to their sons and daughters who were to come after them. Yea, we thank thee for those whose sacrament was only a revolution, and the cup of blessing was of blood drawn from their own manly veins ; and we bless thee for the hardy valor which drew their sword, and sheathed it not till they had a large place, and their inalienable rights secured to them by their own right hand, toiling and striving under the benediction of thy precious providence. Now, Lord, we thank thee that the few have become a multitude, and the little vine which our fathers planted with their tears and watered with their blood, reaches from sea to sea, great clusters of riches hanging on every bough, and its root strong in the land.

But we remember before thee the great sins which this nation has wrought, and while we thank thee for the noblest heritage which man ever inherited from man, we must mourn also that we have blackened the ground with crimes such as seldom a nation has committed against thee. Yea, Lord, even our thanksgiving prayer must be stained with our tears of mourning, and our psalm of thanksgiving must be mingled with the wail of those who lament that they have no hope left for them in the earth. Father, we remember our brothers of our own kin and complexion whom

wickedness has smitten down in another land, whose houses are burned and their wives given up to outrage. We remember those who walk only in chains this day, and are persecuted for their righteousness' sake. And still more in our prayer we remember the millions of our brothers whom our fathers chained, and whose fetters our wicked hands have riveted upon their limbs. O

Lord, we pray thee that we may suffer from these our transgressions, till we learn to eschew evil, to break the rod of the oppressor, and to let the oppressed go free; yea, till we make our rulers righteousness, and those chief amongst us whose glory it is to serve man kind by justice, by fidelity, and by truth.

We pray thee, on this day of our gratitude, that we may rouse up everything that is humanest in our heart pledging ourselves anew to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly before thee, O Thou our Father and our Mother on earth and in the heavens too. Thus, Lord, may our thanksgiving be worthy of the nature thou hast given us and the heritage thou hast bequeathed. Thus may our psalm of gratitude be a hymn of thanksgiving for millions who have broken off their chains, and for a great country full of joy, of blessedness, of freedom and of peace. So may thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

 

 

December 28, 1856 (Pages 38-43)

THOU Infinite One, Who fillest the ground under our feet and the heavens over our head, whither shall we go from thy spirit or whither shall we flee from thy presence ? If we take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead us, and thy right hand shall hold us up. If we say, surely the darkness shall cover us, even the darkness shall be light about us; yea, the darkness hideth not from thee, but the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.

Father, we know that at all times and in every place thou wilt remember us, nor askest thou the persuasive music of our morning hymn, nor our prayer's poor utterance, to stir thy loving-kindness towards us ; for thou carest for us when sleep has sealed our senses up and we heed thee no more ; yea, when enveloped in the smoke of human ignorance or of folly, thine eye is still upon us, thou understandest our needs, and doest for us more and better than we are able to ask, or even to think. But in our feebleness and our darkness, we love to flee unto thee, who art the light of all our being, the strength of all which is strong, the wisdom of what is wise, and the foundation of all things that are ; and while we lift up our prayer of aspiration unto thee, and muse on thy presence with us, and the various events of our life, the fire of devotion must needs flame in our heart, and gratitude dwell on our tongue.

Father, we thank thee for the world about us and above and beneath. We bless thee for the austere loveliness of the wintry heavens, for those fixed or wandering fires which lend their splendor to the night, for the fringe of beauty wherewith thou borderest the morning and the evening sky, and for this daily sun sending his roseate flush of light across the white and wintry world. We thank thee for all the things that are kindly to our flesh, which our toil has won from out the brute material world.

We bless thee for all the favorable things that are about us; for those near and dear to us, whom we watch over, and those who long since watched over and blessed us. We thank thee for wise words spoken to us in our childhood or our youth, for the examples of virtue which were round us, and for the tender voice which spoke to our spirit in early days, and wakened in us a sense of reverence, of love and of trust in thy spirit. We thank thee for the fathers and mothers who bore us, for the kinsfolk, the friends, the acquaintance, and the teachers, who brought us reverently up ; for all the self-denial which watched over our cradles, which held our head when our heart was sick, sheltering us from the world's hardness, holding up our childish hands when they hung down, and guiding our tottering footsteps when we ran giddy in the paths of youth. Yea, we thank thee for all the examples of excellence, the words of kindly remonstrance and virtue on, leading, which have been a lamp to our path, showing us the way in which we should go.

We thank thee for the noble institutions which have come down to us; for the church, with its many words of truth and its recollections of ancient piety ; for the state, with its wise laws; for the community, which puts its social hospitable walls about us from the day of our birth till we are cradled again, in our coffin, and the sides of the pit are sweet to our crumbling flesh.

We remember before thee the ages that are past and gone, and thank thee for the great men whom thou causedst to spring up in those days, great flowers of humanity, whose seeds have been scattered broadcast along the world, making the solitary place into a garden and the wilderness to blossom like a rose. We bless thee for the great men who founded the state, and for the inventors of useful things, large-minded men who thought out true ideas, and skilful-handed folk who made their lofty thought an exceeding useful thing. We thank thee for those strong men of science in whose hands the ark of truth has been borne ever onward from age to age, for poets and philosophers whose deep vision beheld the truth when other men perceived it not, and for those gifted women whose presentient soul ran before the mighty prophet's thoughtful eye, forefeeling light when yet the very East was dark with night. Yea, we thank thee for the goodly fellowship of all these prophets of glory, the glorious company of such apostles, and the noble army of martyrs, who were faithful even unto death.

Chiefliest of all do we bless thee for that noble son of thine, born of a peasant mother and a peasant sire, who in days of great darkness went before men, his life a pillar of fire leading them unto marvellous light and peace and beauty. We thank thee for his words, so lustrous with truth, for his life, fragrant all through with piety and benevolence ; yea, Lord, we bless thee for the death which sinful hands nailed into his lacerated flesh, where through the wounds the spirit escaped triumphant unto thee, and could not be holden of mortal death. We thank thee for the triumphs which attend that name of Jesus, for the dear blessedness which his life has bestowed upon us, smoothing the pathway of toil, softening the pillow of distress, and brightening the way whereon truth comes down from thee, and life to thee goes ever ascending up. Father, we thank thee for the blessings which this great noble soul has widely scattered throughout the world, and most of all for this, that his spark of fire has revealed to us thine own divinity enlivening this mortal human clod, and prophesying such noble future of achievement here on earth and in thine own kingdom of heaven with thee. Father, we thank thee also for the unmentioned martyrs, for the glorious company of prophets whom history makes no written word of but whose words and whose lives are garnered up in the great life of humanity. O Lord we bless thee for all these, and, in our own day, when thou hast given us so many talents and the opportunity so glorious for their use, we pray thee that we may distinguish between the doctrines of men and thine eternal commandments, and that no reverence for the old may blind our eyes to evils that have come down from other days, and no fondness for new things ever lead us to grasp the hidden evil when we take the specious good; but may we separate between the right and the wrong, and choose those things that are wise to direct, and profitable for our daily use. O Lord, when we compare our own poor lives with the ideal germ which warms in our innermost soul, longing to be itself a strong and flame-like flower, we are ashamed that our lives are no better, and we pray thee that in time present and in all time to come we may summon up the vigor of our spirit, and strive to live lives of such greatness and nobleness that we shall bless our children and all who come after us, giving them better institutions than ourselves have received, and bequeathing to them a more glorious character than was transmitted to us. May we cultivate every noble faculty of our nature, giving to every limb of the body its proper place and enjoyment, and over all the humbler faculties may we enthrone the great commanding powers, which shall rule and regulate our life into order and strength and beauty, and fill our souls with the manifold delight of those who know thee and serve thee and love thee with all their understanding and all their heart.

In the stern duties which are before us, Father in heaven, may thy light burn clear in our tabernacle, and when thou callest us may our lamps be trimmed and burning, our loins girt about, our feet ready sandaled for the road, and our souls prepared for thee. Thus may thy kingdom come, and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

 

 

March 17, 1850 (Pages 5-8)

O THOU Infinite Spirit, who needest no words for man to hold his converse with thee, we would enter into thy presence, we would reverence thy power, we would worship thy wisdom, we would adore thy justice, we would be gladdened by thy love, and blessed by our communion with thee. We know that thou needest no sacrifice at our hands, nor any offering at our lips; yet we live in thy world, we taste thy bounty, we breathe thine air, and thy power sustains us, thy justice guides, thy goodness preserves, and thy love blesses us forever and ever. O Lord, we cannot fail to praise thee, though we cannot praise thee as we would.  We bow our faces down before thee with humble hearts, and in thy presence would warm our spirits for a while, that the better we may be prepared for the duties of life, to endure its trials, to bear its crosses, and to triumph in its lasting joys.

We thank thee for the world that is about us, now serene, enlightened by the radiance of day, now covered over with clouds and visited by storms, and in serenity and in storm still guarded and watched and blessed by thee.  We adore thee who givest us all these things that we are, and promisest the glories that we are to become.  For our daily life we thank thee, for its duties to exercise our bands, for its trials and temptations to make strong our hearts, for the friends that are dear to us,a joy to us in our waking hours, and in the visions of the night still present, and a blessing still.

We thank thee, O Lord, for thy tender providence which is over us all, for thy loving kindness which blesses the child and the old man, which regards the sinner with affection, and lovest still thine holy child. Father, we know that we are wanderers from thy way, that we forget thy laws, that oft-times the world has dominion over us, that we are slaves to passion and to every sense. And yet we rejoice to remember that thy kindness is not as our

kindness, and thy love is infinite, that thou tenderly carest for thy children, that thou art the Shepherd of the sheep, and in thy bosom bearest the feeble lambs, and gently leadest at last each wanderer back to its home.

We pray thee that we may forgive ourselves for every sin we commit, that with penitence we may wash out the remembrance of wrong, and with wings of new resolution fly out of darkness in the midst of transgression, into the higher, brighter heaven of human duty, of human joy, and of the Christian's peace.

Teach us, O Lord, to use this world wisely and faithfully and well. In its daily duties and its trials may we find the school for wisdom, for goodness, and for piety. May we learn by every trial that thou sendest, be strengthened by every cross, and when we stoop in sadness to drink bitter waters, may we rise refreshed and invigorated.  Help us to live at peace with our souls, disturbing no string on this harp of a thousand chords, but attuning all to harmony, and in our life living one great triumphant hymn to thee.  Withhold from us what is evil, though we beg mightily for it, and with tears and prayers.  Help us to live in unity with our brother men, reconciling our interest to their interests, by faithfully discharging every duty, by patiently hearing with the weakness or the strength of our brothers, and loving them as we love ourselves. Teach us, Father, to love the unlovely, to love those who evil entreat us, to toil for those who are burdens in the world, and to seek to save them from ignorance, to reform them of their wickedness, and to hasten that time when all men shall recognize that thou art their Father, and their brothers are indeed their brothers, and that all owe fidelity to thee and loving-kindness to their fellow-men.  Help us to live in unity with thee, no sloth hiding us from thy presence, no passion turning us aside from thy counsel, but, with mind and conscience, with heart and soul, assimilating ourselves to thee, till thy truth dwells in our understanding, and thy justice enlightens our conscience, and thy love shines a beatitude and a blessed light in our heart and soul for ever and ever.

In times of darkness, when men fail before thee, in days when men of high degree are a lie, and those of low degree, are a vanity, teach us, O Lord, to be true before thee, not a vanity, but soberness and manliness;  and may we keep still our faith shining in the midst of darkness, the beacon-light to guide us over stormy seas to a home and haven at last.  Father, give us strength for our daily duty, patience for our constant or unaccustomed cross, and in every time of trial give us the hope that sustains, the faith that wins the victory and obtains satisfaction and fulness of joy.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  May thy kingdom come, and thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.  Give us each day our daily bread.  Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from its evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.

Amen.

 

 


2004 American Unitarian Conference