Prayer and the Spiritual Path of Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Lewis V. Baldwin, Jr.

The question of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s spirituality and spiritual life has occupied my thinking for more than two decades. It was clear to me when I began my research back in the late 1980s that King, from his earliest years growing up in Atlanta, Georgia in the 1930s and 40s, struggled with issues about a supernatural reality or divine being, about the world around him, and about how his own life figured into the larger scheme of things in the universe.  Such a spiritual quest was only natural for one who was the descendant of generations of Baptist male preachers and pious, God-fearing women. Spirituality for King became that path toward a greater sense of being in communion with God and with the whole of creation.  The ways in which this spiritual path unfolded over time are richly revealed in the Reverend Dr. King's sixty-eight prayers, which are brought together in an exciting and provocative book entitled, "Thou, Dear God": Prayers that Open Hearts and SpiritsThrough a careful reading of this book, one is able to join King in what is unmistakably an interesting and enriching spiritual journey.

God grant that right here in America and all over this world, we will choose the high way; a way in which men will live together as brothers. A way in which the nations of the world will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. A way in which every man will respect the dignity and worth of all human personality. A way in which every nation will allow justice to run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. A way in which men will do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. A way in which men will be able to stand up, and in the midst of oppression, in the midst of darkness and agony, they will be able to stand there and love their enemies, bless those persons that curse them, pray for those individuals that despite—fully use them. And this is the way that will bring us once more into that society which we think of as the brotherhood of man. This will be that day when white people, colored people, whether they are brown or whether they are yellow or whether they are black, will join together and stretch out with their arms and be able to cry out: “Free at last! Free at last! Great God Almighty, we are free at last!” (Martin Luther King, Jr. From "Thou, Dear God": Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits.)


Lewis V. Baldwin is professor of religious studies at Vanderbilt University and an ordained Baptist minister. An expert on black-church traditions, he is author of The Voice of Conscience: The Church in the Mind of Martin Luther King, Jr.; There Is a Balm in Gilead: The Cultural Roots of Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. He is the editor of "Thou, Dear God": Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits, the first and only collection of prayers by Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Read "Prayers for Social Justice" from "Thou, Dear God" on Scribd.

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