African Prayer Bookby Desmond Tutu
The great Archbishop of Capetown, South Africa, shares with us the simple but profound secrets of his extraordinary spiritual strength by unveiling his very own book of prayer. Prayer, our conversation with God, needs no set formulas or flowery phrases. It often needs no words at all. But for most believers, the words of others can be a wonderful aid to devotion, especially when these words come front faithful fellow pilgrims. The African Prayer Book is just such an aid, for in this collection all the spiritual riches of the vast and varied continent of Africa are bravely set forth. Here we may delight in Solomon's splendid encounter with the Queen of Sheba, overhear the simple prayer of a penniless Bushman, and glory in the sensuous sonorities of the mysterious liturgies of the Egyptian Copts. Here are Jesus' own encounters with Africa, which provided him refuge at the beginning of his life (from the murderous King Herod) and aid at its end (in the person of Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus carry his cross). Here are the prayers of some of the greatest among the mothers and fathers of the Church -- Monica, Augustine, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian of Carthag -- as well as the prayers from the African diasporas of North America and the Caribbean. From thunderous multi-invocation litanies to quiet meditations, here are prayers that every heart can speak with strength and confidence. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who is for millions the very soul of Africa, is our guide on this unique spiritual journey. His introduction is destined to become a classic, his characteristic energy and optimism light our way, and the words of his favorite prayers (many composed by the Archbishop himself) will stay with us forever.
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Read an Excerpt
All of us are by nature worshipful. We may worship God to whom we ascribe his due, his worth. That is true worship. Or, we may give a false worship to money, to status, etc. When we listen to a superb Beethoven symphony, or something out of Handel's Messiah, we are often speechless with wonder and awe. Are we not often awestruck before the grandeur of some imposing mountain range, or when we behold a glorious sunset, or a still, moonlit night with the stars winking in a dark blue sky? I once heard a venerable professor of gynecology, who must have delivered countless babies, confess that he was always overwhelmed by the wonder and mystery of a baby being born. I have heard that scientists wax ecstatic and break into poetic utterance because of the aesthetic qualities of some scientific experiment and the truth that it will have proven. Archimedes ran naked out of his bath when a new scientific truth struck him, shouting "Eureka, eureka" ("I have found it!") In the presence of a good and holy person most of us will be overcome with awe. Standing near Mother Teresa, or Helder Camara, or Nelson Mandela, or Mahatma Gandhi, you know you are standing on holy ground.
On such occasions words are often so utterly inadequate. The story goes of a farmer who used to sit in church for long periods of silence. When he was asked about this practice, he said of our Lord, "I look at him and he looks at me and it is enough." We too have moments when we are struck speechless, as when we are stunned by the beauty of the snowcapped Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, or the majestic roar of the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Our instinctive worshipfulness then comes to the fore with all these created things; how much more when we encounter the Source of it all--God, who is Beauty, Truth and Goodness? Then we want to fall down to worship and adore the one whose glory fills the heavens and the earth. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts."
O all ye big things of the earth bless ye the Lord . . .
. . . all ye small things bless ye the Lord . . .
Isn't that beautiful?
All shall be Amen and Alleluia.
We shall rest and we shall see,
We shall see and we shall know,
We shall know and we shall love,
We shall love and we shall praise.
Behold our end which is no end.
Somebody remarked that our praise will not end, because we will for ever discover new aspects of God's beauty, holiness and goodness; for God is infinite, and we are and will always be finite, and so we will be "lost" in wonder, love and praise, as the hymn puts it.
In adoration we begin where we should--with God--by putting first things first. Our Lord taught his disciples a special prayer and it began with God, "Our Father," and then proceeds to glorify and adore him: "hallowed be thy name." In starting with adoration, we follow the pattern our Lord left us.
The day of Pentecost had come, and they were all together in one place. Suddenly there came from the sky what sounded like a strong, driving wind, a noise which filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them flames like tongues of fire distributed among them and coming to rest on each one. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them power of utterance.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem devout Jews drawn from every nation under heaven. At this sound a crowd of them gathered, and were bewildered because each one heard his own language spoken; they were amazed and in astonishment exclaimed, "Surely these people who are speaking are all Galileans! How is it that each of us can hear them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites; inhabitants of Mesopotamia, of Judaea and Cappadocia, of Pontus and Asia, of Phrygia and Pamphylia, of Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Cretans and Arabs--all of us hear them telling in our own tongues the great things God has done."
An African Canticle
All you big things, bless the Lord.
Mount Kilimanjaro and Lake Victoria,
The Rift Valley and the Serengeti Plain,
Fat baobabs and shady mango trees,
All eucalyptus and tamarind trees,
Bless the Lord.
Praise and extol Him for ever and ever.
All you tiny things, bless the Lord.
Busy black ants and hopping fleas,
Wriggling tadpoles and mosquito larvae,
Flying locusts and water drops,
Pollen dust and tsetse flies,
Millet seeds and dried dagaa,
Bless the Lord.
Praise and extol Him for ever and ever.
Today Is God
In the beginning was God,
Today is God,
Tomorrow will be God.
Who can make an image of God?
He has no body.
He is the word which comes out of your mouth.
That word! It is no more,
It is past, and still it lives!
So is God.
Praise from Every Nation
After that I looked and saw a vast throng, which no one could count, from all races and tribes, nations and languages, standing before the throne and the Lamb. They were robed in white and had palm branches in their hands, and they shouted aloud:
"Victory to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
All the angels who stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures prostrated themselves before the throne and worshipped God, crying:
"Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honour, power and might, be to our God for ever! Amen."
How Great Thou Art
Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised. Great is thy power and thy wisdom is infinite. And thee would man praise, man but a particle of thy creation, man that bears about him his mortality, the witness of his sin, that thou resistest the proud. Yet would man praise thee, he but a particle of thy creation. Thou awakenest us to delight in thy praise. For thou madest us for thyself and our heart is restless until it rest in thee. Grant me, Lord, to know and understand which is first--to call on thee or to praise thee? And again, to know thee or to call on thee? For who can call on thee, not knowing thee? For he that knoweth thee not may call on thee as other than thou art. Or is it better that we call on thee that we may know thee?
Saint Augustine was the greatest theologian of Western Christianity during its first five centuries. A notable sinner (who described his early life in his autobiographical masterpiece, the Confessions) he became bishop of Hippo, the second city of Roman Africa, which he served brilliantly till his death in 430.
Love Ever Burning
O love ever burning and never extinguished charity
My God set me on fire.
Piler-up of the rocks into towering mountains!
When you stamp on the stones the dust rises and fills the land.
Hardness of the cliff,
waters of the pool that turn into misty rain when stirred.
Gourd overflowing with oil!
Creator . . . who sews the heavens together like cloth,
knit together everything here on the earth below.
You are the one who calls the branching trees into life;
you make new seeds grow out of the ground so that they stand straight and strong.
You have filled the land with people.
Wonderful one, you live among the sheltering rocks.
You give rain to us people.
We pray to you,
hear us, O Strong One!
When we beg you, show your mercy.
You are in the highest places with the spirits of the great ones.
You raise the grass-covered hills above the earth,
and you make the rivers.
-Rozwi, South Africa
Thou art the great God--the one who is in heaven.
It is thou, thou Shield of Truth,
it is thou, thou Tower of Truth,
it is thou, thou Bush of Truth,
it is thou, thou who sittest in the highest,
thou art the creator of life,
thou madest the regions above.
The creator who madest the heavens also,
the maker of the stars and the Pleiades--
the shooting stars declare it unto us.
The maker of the blind, of thine own will didst thou make them.
The trumpet speaks--for us it calls,
Thou art the Hunter who hunts for souls.
Thou art the Leader who goes before us,
thou art the Great Mantle which covers us.
Thou art he whose hands are wounded;
thou art he whose feet are wounded;
thou art he whose blood is a trickling stream--and why?
Thou art he whose blood was spilled for us.
For this great price we call,
for thine own place we call.
-Xhosa, South Africa
Great Is Our Happiness
Great is, O King,
our happiness in thy kingdom,
thou, our king.
We dance before thee,
by the strength of thy kingdom.
May our feet be made strong;
let us dance before thee,
Give ye praise,
to him above who is worthy of praise.
-Zulu, South Africa
I Have No Words to Thank You
O my Father, Great Elder,
I have no words to thank you,
But with your deep wisdom
I am sure that you can see
How I value your glorious gifts.
O my Father, when I look upon your greatness,
I am confounded with awe.
O Great Elder,
Ruler of all things earthly and heavenly,
I am your warrior,
Ready to act in accordance with your will.
Seven archangels stand glorifying the Almighty and serving the hidden mystery.
Michael the first, Gabriel the second, and Raphael the third, symbol of the Trinity.
Surael, Sakakael, Saratael and Ananael. These are the shining ones, the great and pure ones, who pray to God for mankind.
The cherubim, the seraphim, the thrones, dominions, powers, and the four living creatures bearing the chariot of God.
The twenty-four elders in the Church of the Firstborn, praise him without ceasing, crying out and saying:
Holy is God; heal the sick. Holy is the Almighty; give rest to the departed. Holy is the Immortal; bless thine inheritance. May thy mercy and thy peace be a stronghold unto thy people.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Intercede for us, O angels our guardians, and all heavenly hosts, that our sins may be forgiven.
Hymn to the Blessed Virgin
O my Lady, the holy Virgin Mary, thou hast been likened to many things, yet there is nothing which compares with thee. Neither heaven can match thee, nor the earth equal as much as the measure of thy womb. For thou didst confine the Unconfinable, and carry him whom none has power to sustain.
The cherubim are but thy Son's chariot bearers, and even the seraphim bow down in homage at the throne of thy Firstborn. How sublime is the honor of thy royal estate.
O holy Virgin, instrument of our strength and power, our grace, deification, joy, and fortune; glory of our human race! Thou wast the means whereby the salvation of the world was accomplished, and through whom God was reconciled to the sons of mankind. And it was through thee that created human nature was united in indivisible union with the Divine Being of the Creator.
What an unheard-of thing for the potter to clothe himself in a clay vessel, or the craftsman in a handicraft. What humility beyond words for the Creator to clothe himself in the body of a human creature.
And now I cry unto thy Son, O Virgin, saying:
O thou who hast preferred the humble estate of men to the high rank of angels, do not reject thy servant because of the sins I have committed.
Thou whose desire was to partake of earthly rather than heavenly beings, let me share in the secret of thy flawless Divine Being.
Thou to whom Jacob was more comely than Esau, do not scorn me because of my transgressions. For against thee only have I sinned, and much sin have I heaped up upon me.
Thou didst create me pure and righteous, yet of my own will I became unclean, and through the persuasion of the wicked one went astray. Thou didst adorn me with gifts of priceless worth which I cast away in favor of unrighteousness.
Make speed, O Lord, to build me into a fortress for the Holy Spirit, Raise me up lest I crumble into a desolate ruin of sin. Make speed to forgive for forgiveness is with thee.
O Lord, thou knowest the balm to heal my wounds, the help to strengthen my weakness, the path to prosper my progress. Thou knowest all that is expedient to fulfil my life, as the potter knows how to contrive his own vessel's perfection. For the work is wrought according to the design and wisdom of its maker.
O Lord, renew thy vessel with the power of the Holy Spirit. Make the work of thy hands to be lovely and indestructible.
O Lord, remember thy descent from the heights of Heaven and thine indwelling within the womb of the Holy Virgin.
Remember thy birth from her while she was a virgin, and the suckling of her who wast chaste.
Remember how thou wast laid in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, in a stable.
O Lord remembering all this, do not disregard thy sinful servant. Help me with thy deliverance and cover me with the shield of thy salvation for the sake of Mary thy Mother; for the sake of her breasts which suckled thee and her lips which kissed thee; for the sake of her hands which touched thee and her arms which embraced thee; for the sake of her spirit and flesh which thou didst take from her to be part of thyself . . .
I believe, O Lord, that thou art the Son of the Father in thy Godhead, and the Son of Man in thy humanity . . .
I believe, O Lord, that thou art the Firstborn Only Son to him who begat thee and the only Son of her who gave birth to thee. Thy birth in Heaven was unique, and thy birth on earth was unique.
I have sought but could not comprehend the mystery of thy first birth. I contemplate thy second birth and marvel in wonder. I give glory to the former though it is beyond my understanding. I give homage to the second in prostrate adoration.
And now without doubt, and in the fullness of faith, I glorify thy birth from the Father and give praise to thy birth from the Virgin. The Virgin's womb is greater than the mystical chariot of light, loftier than the heights of the firmament, more sublime than the distances of space, more glorious than the seraphim and cherubim.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Meet the Author
DESMOND TUTU, the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, retired as Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, in 1996 and was later named as Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by Nelson Mandela. He lives in South Africa and lectures throughout the world.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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