An African Prayer Book


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 from faithful fellow pilgrims.

An 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 overhear the simple prayer of the penniless Bushman, the words ...

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African Prayer Book

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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 from faithful fellow pilgrims.

An 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 overhear the simple prayer of the penniless Bushman, the words of some of the greatest Church fathers (Augustine and Athanasius), petitioning and jubilant voices from South Africa’s struggle for freedom, and even prayers from the Africa diasporas of North America and the Caribbean. Here are Jesus’s 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). From thunderous multi-invocation litanies to quiet meditations, here are prayers every heart can speak with strength and confidence.

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. Archbishop Tutu's introduction is destined to become a classic.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385516495
  • Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/21/2006
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 786,308
  • Product dimensions: 5.03 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.34 (d)

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.

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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."

-Acts 2:1-11

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.

-Traditional African

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."

-Revelation 7:9-12

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

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.

-Saint Augustine

Great Spirit!

Great Spirit!
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.
Gracious one!

-Rozwi, South Africa

Great Shield

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,
our king,
by the strength of thy kingdom.
May our feet be made strong;
let us dance before thee,
Give ye praise,
all angels,
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.
Kikuyu, Kenya

-Seven Archangels

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.

-Coptic Orthodox

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.

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Table of Contents

Introduction xiii
Adoration 3
An African Canticle: Traditional African 6
Today Is God: Pygmy 6
Praise from Every Nation: Revelation 7:9-12 7
How Great Thou Art: Saint Augustine 7
Love Ever Burning: Saint Augustine 8
Great Spirit! Rozwi, South Africa 9
Great Shield: Xhosa, South Africa 10
Great Is Our Happiness: Zulu, South Africa 11
I Have No Words to Thank You: Kikuyu, Kenya 12
Seven Archangels: Coptic Orthodox 12
Hymn to the Blessed Virgin: Ethiopian Orthodox 13
Pharaoh's Hymn to the Sun: Ikhnaton, 14th Century B.C. 17
Chords of Praise: Baluba, Zaire 18
Trying to Count the Waves: Saint Athanasius 18
When God Created All Things: Dinka, Sudan 19
A Fisherman's Song of Praise: Ghana 20
A Divine Invocation: Saint Augustine 21
The Source of Being Is Above: Zulu, South Africa 27
The Great Amen: Zulu, South Africa 28
Morning Praise: Saint Macarius 28
Silence Alive: Harry Alfred Wiggett 29
The Right Hand of God: The Caribbean Conference of Churches 30
Amen and Alleluia: Saint Augustine 31
Contrition 35
A Litany of Confession: Cathedral Church of Saint George, Cape Town 37
An Act of Reconciliation and Sharing of the Peace: South Africa, National Service of Thanksgiving, May 8, 1994 38
O Jesus, My Feet Are Dirty: Origen 40
A Balm in Gilead: African-American Spiritual 41
You Have Helped My Life to Grow Like a Tree: Nigeria 42
God Has Turned His Back on Us: Dinka, Sudan 42
May Anger and Fear Turn to Love: Margaret Nash 43
Confession of Alexandria: All Africa Conference of Churches 45
Thanksgiving 51
Thankfulness for Hopes Fulfilled: Crossroads, a Squatter Community Near Cape Town 55
A Litany of Rejoicing: Cape Town, South Africa 56
Creator of Our Land: Ashanti, Ghana 57
My Joys Mount As Do the Birds: Ghana 59
Thank You Very Much! Samburu, Kenya 61
Our Loving Eternal Parent: South Africa, National Service of Thanksgiving, May 1994 62
Our Churches Are Like Big Families: West Africa 63
Mogopa: A Mogopa Elder 64
All Are Kings and Prophets: Saint Macarius 65
You Have Our Faith With Our Bodies: Masai, Tanzania 65
For the Wonder of Your Love: Inspired by Ephesians 1:3-18 67
Lift Every Voice: African-American Anthem 67
One Family: Bantu 69
The Motor Under Me Is Running Hot: Ghana 70
Supplication 75
God Bless Africa: Trevor Huddleston 77
Make Us Holy: Institute for Spirituality, CPSA 78
Victory Is Ours: Desmond Tutu 78
Deliver Me: Bread for Tomorrow, Kenya 78
Nothing Between Us and the Love of God: Romans 8:31-39 79
The Angels Will Deliver Us: Origen 80
Christ Enough: John B. Gardener 81
Go Down, Moses: African-American Spiritual 82
Take My Hand, Precious Lord: Thomas A. Dorsey 84
Litany Desmond Tutu 85
May God Agree with Us: Samburu, Kenya 90
Make Us Instruments of Your Faith: Masai, Tanzania 91
I Have No Other Helper Than You Ghana 92
Grant Me to Walk All Roads: Samburu, Kenya 93
Be for Us a Moon of Joy: Mensa, Ethiopia 94
The Privilege Is Ours to Share in the Loving: Church of the Province of the West Indies 94
We Are Your Children: An Anglican Prayer Book 1989 Church of the Province of Southern Africa 95
Prayer of a Dying Man: Dinka, Sudan 99
A Prayer for Africa: Ghana 99
I Abandon Myself to You: Charles de Foucauld 101
Deliver Us from Fear of the Unknown: Akanu Ibaim, Nigeria 102
We Kneel Before Thee: Zaire 103
Your Holy Spirit Blows Over This Earth: Ghana 103
The Rainbow of Thy Peace: Leopold Sedar Senghor 105
Be Not Afraid: Isaiah 43:1-2 105
I Shall Not Forget You: Isaiah 49:14-16 106
Answer of a Starving Child... "Who Is Jesus Christ?" An African Call for Life 107
A South African Reply: An African Call for Life 107
A Woman's Answer: An African Call for Life 108
Reflections on Wholeness: An African Call for Life 108
Daily Life 115
You Have Prepared in Peace the Path: Galla, Ethiopia 117
O Sun, As You Rise in the East: Abaluyia, Kenya 118
Our Heart Is Restless: Saint Augustine 118
A Morning Prayer: Boran, Kenya 119
An Evening Prayer: Boran, Kenya 119
Cover Me with the Night: Ghana 120
The Sun Has Disappeared: Ghana 120
Night Silence: Harry Alfred Wiggett 121
The Silent Self: Harry Alfred Wiggett 122
Seed Silence: Harry Alfred Wiggett 123
For the Living Dead: Mende, Sierra Leone 124
For a Disobedient Son: Mende, Sierra Leone 124
For a Repentant Son: Mende, Sierra Leone 124
A Fisherman's Prayer: Lobi, Cote d'Ivoire 125
God Free You: Samburu, Kenya 126
A Blessing: Samburu, Kenya 126
Blessing a New House: Nyola, Kenya 127
A Fire Blessing: Masai, Tanzania 127
Light a Holy Fire: Masai, Tanzania 128
The Time of Harvest Is Over: Betammaribe (Somba), Dahomey (Benin) 129
You Are Above, I Am Below: Boran, Kenya 129
Let Us Behave Gently: Yoruba, Nigeria 132
Turn Your Ear to Hear Me: Nandi, Kenya 132
Wisdom: Traditional African 133
Late Have I Loved Thee: Saint Augustine 133
Grant Me to Know Thee: Saint Augustine 134
Now I Love Thee Alone: Saint Augustine 135
This Only Do I Ask: Saint Augustine 135
Appreciation 137
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