Quotations about   prayer

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In meditation we should not look for a “method” or “system,” but cultivate an “attitude,” and “outlook”: faith, openness, attention, reverence, expectation, supplication, trust, and joy.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
Contemplative Prayer (1973)
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I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in god. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Playboy interview (Jan 1965)
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On the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to ban school-led prayer.
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Be able to be alone. Lose not the advantage of Solitude, and the Society of thy self, nor be only content, but delight to be alone and single with Omnipresency.

Thomas Browne (1605-1682) English physician and author
Christian Morals, Part 3, sec. 9 (1716)
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O God, if there be a God, save my soul, if I have a soul!

Other Authors and Sources
Anonymous Soldier, Battle of Blenheim (31 Aug 1704)

Also given as "Oh, God, if there is one, save my soul, if I have one."

The original printed source for this quote appears to be in William King (1685-1763), Political and Literary Anecdotes of His Own Times (1761), who quotes William Wyndham (1688-1740) claiming it "the shortest prayer he had ever heard," given by a common soldier prior to the Battle of Blenheim.

Also attributed to:
  • Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899), without citation, supposedly on his deathbed, sometimes with the final phrase "... from hell, if there be a hell!"
  • Ernest Renan (1823-1892) as "The Agnostic's Prayer" or "Prayer of a Skeptic [Prière d'un sceptique]" ("Ô Seigneur, s'il y a un Seigneur; sauvez mon âme, si j'ai une âme.")
  • Frederick the Great (1712-1786), in M. Goldsmith, Frederick the Great (1929), without citation.
  • Voltaire (1694-1778), without citation.
Added on 29-May-17 | Last updated 29-May-17
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The Woman tempted me — and tempts me still!
Lord god, I pray You that she ever will!

Edmund Vance Cooke (1866-1932) Canadian poet
“Adam”
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It is, no doubt, impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always very ‘spiritual’, that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism. Two advantages will follow. In the first place, his attention will be kept on what he regards as her sins, by which, with a little guidance from you, he can be induced to mean any of her actions which are inconvenient or irritating to himself. Thus you can keep rubbing the wounds of the day a little sorer even while he is on his knees; the operation is not at all difficult and you will find it very entertaining. In the second place, since his ideas about her soul will be very crude and often erroneous, he will, in some degree, be praying for an imaginary person, and it will be your task to make that imaginary person daily less and less like the real mother — the sharp-tongued old lady at the breakfast table. In time, you may get the cleavage so wide that no thought or feeling from his prayers for the imagined mother will ever flow over into his treatment of the real one. I have had patients of my own so well in hand that they could be turned at a moment’s notice from impassioned prayer for a wife’s or son’s ‘soul’ to beating or insulting the real wife or son without a qualm.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Screwtape Letters (1942)
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Laborare est orare. By the Puritan moralist the ancient maxim is repeated with a new and intenser significance. The labor which he idealizes is not simply a requirement imposed by nature, or a punishment for the sin of Adam. It is itself a kind of ascetic discipline, more rigorous than that demanded of any order of mendicants — a discipline imposed by the will of God, and to be undergone, not in solitude, but in the punctual discharge of secular duties. It is not merely an economic means, to be laid aside when physical needs have been satisfied. It is a spiritual end, for in it alone can the soul find health, and it must be continued as an ethical duty long after it has ceased to be a material necessity.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926)

The Latin means, "To work is to pray."
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But I must submit all my Hopes and Fears, to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the Faith may be, I firmly believe.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Abigail Adams (3 Jul 1776)
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Lady Maccon cast her hands heavenward, although there was no one up there for her to appeal to. It was an accepted fact that preternaturals had no spiritual recourse, only pragmatism. Alexia didn’t mind; the latter had often gotten her out of sticky situations, whereas the former seemed highly unreliable when one was in a bind.

Gail Carriger (b. 1976) American archaeologist, author [pen name of Tofa Borregaard]
Heartless (2011)
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Mahomet made the people believe that he would call a hill to him, and from the top of it offer up his prayers for the observers of his law. The people assembled. Mahomet called the hill to come to him, again and again; and when the hill stood still he was never a whit abashed, but said, “If the hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill.”

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Essays, “Of Boldness” (1625)
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And therefore it was a good answer that was made by one who, when they showed him hanging in a temple a picture of those who had paid their vows as having escaped shipwreck, and would have him say whether he did not now acknowledge the power of the gods — “Aye,” asked he again, “but where are they painted that were drowned after their vows?” And such is the way of all superstition, whether in astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgments, or the like; wherein men, having a delight in such vanities, mark the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, though this happen much oftener, neglect and pass them by.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Novum Organum, Book 1, Aphorism 46 (1620)
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In the end, a life of prayer is a life with open hands where we are not ashamed of our weakness but realize that it is more perfect for us to be led by the Other than to try to hold everything in our own hands.

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) Dutch Catholic priest and writer
With Open Hands (1972)
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So get down upon your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Tom Lehrer (b. 1928) American mathematician, satirist, songwriter
“The Vatican Rag,” That Was the Year That Was (1965)
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Prayer is not a pious decoration of life but the breath of human existence.

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) Dutch Catholic priest and writer
The Wounded Healer (1972)
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I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

Douglass - prayed with my legs - wist_info quote

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) American abolitionist, orator, writer
(Attributed)

Mentioned frequently as being part of his earlier speeches, but unsourced. Also found as "failed to see the slightest scintillation of an answer until I prayed with my legs."
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The trouble about God is that he is like a person who never acknowledges one’s letters and so, in time, one comes to the conclusion either that he does not exist or that you have got the address wrong. I admitted that it was of great moment: but what was the use of going on dispatching fervent messages — say to Edinburgh — if they all came back through the dead letter office: nay more, if you couldn’t even find Edinburgh on the map.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Letter to Warren Lewis (1 Jul 1921)
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He preaches well that lives well, quoth Sancho; that’s all the Divinity I understand.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) Spanish novelist
Don Quixote, Part 2, Book 3, ch. 29 (1615) [tr. Motteux & Ozell (1743)]
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Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul; and may the outward and inward man be at one.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
Phaedrus, 279 [tr. Jowett (1894)]
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Teach me to feel another’s Woe;
To hide the Fault I see;
That Mercy I to others show,
That Mercy show to me.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) English poet
“The Universal Prayer,” 9 (1738)
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The believer sings louder than he speaks.

Abdal Hakim Murad (b. 1960) British Muslim shaykh, researcher, writer, academic [b. Timothy John Winter]
“Contentions 2,” #33
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Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) English prelate, Catholic Cardinal, theologian
“Lead Kindly Light,” The Pillar of Cloud (1832)
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You can’t pray a lie.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, ch. 31 (1884)
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I have never made but one prayer to God, and very short one: “O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.” And God granted it.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Letter to M. Damilaville (16 May 1767)
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When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
An Ideal Husband, Act 2 (1895)
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An act of goodness surpasses a thousand prayers.

Sa'adi (1184-1283/1291?) Persian poet [a.k.a. Sa'di, Moslih Eddin Sa'adi, Mushrif-ud-Din Abdullah, Muslih-ud-Din Mushrif ibn Abdullah, Mosleh al-Din Saadi Shirazi, Shaikh Mosslehedin Saadi Shirazi]
The Maxims of Sa’di, 1 [tr. Nakosteen (1977)]
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To spend more time in learning is better than spending more time in praying.

Muhammad (570-632) Arabian merchant, prophet, founder of Islam [Mohammed]
The Sayings of Muhammed, #277 [tr. Al-Suhrawardy (1941)]
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If you leap into a Well, Providence is not bound to fetch you out.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia, #2975 (1732)
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Don’t panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends’ embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce … Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Talking the problem through can help me recall what I was trying to achieve before I got stuck. Going for a long walk almost always gets me thinking about my manuscript in a slightly new way. And if all else fails, there’s prayer. St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, has often helped me out in a crisis. If you want to spread your net more widely, you could try appealing to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, too.

Sarah Waters (b. 1966) Welsh novelist
In “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” The Guardian (20 Feb 2010)
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“There are no atheists in foxholes” isn’t an argument against atheism, it’s an argument against foxholes.

James Morrow (b. 1947) American author, humanist
Towing Jehovah, Part 2, “Famine” (1994)
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Paraphrase of this passage: "'There are no atheists in foxholes, people say, and it's so true, it's so fucking true.' Cassie swallowed, savoring the aftertaste of the Cheerios. 'No ... no, I'm being too hard on myself. That maxim, it's not an argument against atheism -- it's an argument against foxholes.'"
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Piety practised in solitude, like the flower that blooms in the desert, may give its fragrance to the winds of heaven, and delight those unbodied spirits that survey the works of God and the actions of men; but it bestows no assistance upon earthly beings, and however free from taints of impurity, yet wants the sacred splendour of beneficence.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Adventurer, #126 “Praises of Solitude”
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The most preposterous notion that H. sapiens has ever dreamed up is that the Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of all the Universes, wants the saccharine adoration of His creatures, can be swayed by their prayers, and becomes petulant if He does not receive their flattery. Yet this absurd fantasy, without a shred of evidence to bolster it, pays all the expenses of the oldest, largest, and least productive industry in all history.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Time Enough for Love, “Intermission” (1973)
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Quite often, people who mean well will inquire of me whether I ever ask myself, in the face of my diseases, “Why me?” I never do. If I ask “Why me?” as I am assaulted by heart disease and AIDS, I must ask “Why me?” about my blessings, and question my right to enjoy them. The morning after I won Wimbledon in 1975 I should have asked “Why me?” and doubted that I deserved the victory. If I don’t ask “Why me?” after my victories, I cannot ask “Why me?” after my setbacks and disasters.

Arthur Ashe (1943-1993) American athlete
Days of Grace, ch. 10 (1993)

Often paraphrased (or used elsewhere by Ashe) as "If I were to say 'God, why me?' about the bad things, then I should have said 'God, why me?' about the good things that happened in my life."

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Not clamour, but love,
Not rumour but dedication,
Not violence but intelligence
Sings in the ear of God.

[Non clamor, sed amor,
non vox, sed votum,
non cordula, sed cor
cantat in aure Dei]

Thomas of Celano (c.1200 - c.1265) Italian friar, poet, hagiographer [Tommaso da Celano]
(Attributed)

A similar phrase -- "Not the voice but the deed, not the music of the heart but the heart, not noise but love sings in the ear of God" -- is attributed to Jordanus de Saxonia, an Augustinian hermit born in Quedlinburg in 1299.
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“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Matthew 6:1-6 (NIV)
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KJV:  "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven."Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly."And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."
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A good deed is the best prayer. A loving life is the best religion.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Fragment
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In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.

Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961) Swedish diplomat, author, UN Secretary-General (1953-61)
Markings (1955) [tr. Sjoberg, Auden (1964)]
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When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory — must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
“The War Prayer” (1904–1905)
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In trying circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity affords a relief denied even to prayer.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
In Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain: A Biography, ch. 38 (1912)
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What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
James 2:14-18 (KJV)
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Alt. trans.:
  • "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith." (NRSV)
  • "My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you? Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don't have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!”—if you don't give them the necessities of life? So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead. But someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.” " (GNT)
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He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) English poet and critic
Lyrical Ballads, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” 615-618 (1798)
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I cannot ask of heaven success, even for my country, in a cause where she should be in the wrong. Fiat justitia, pereat coelum. My toast would be, may our country be always successful, but whether successful or otherwise, always right.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Letter to John Adams (1 Aug 1816)

In response to Stephen Decatur's quote (and subsequent popular catch phrase), "Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right, but our country, right or wrong."

The Latin translates as "Let justice be done though Heaven should fall."
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O, do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.

Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) American clergyman, hymnist
“Going Up to Jerusalem,” Selected Sermons [ed. William Scarlett (1949)]
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The Lord respects me when I work,
But He loves me when I sing.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) Indian Bengali poet, philosopher [a.k.a. Rabi Thakur, Kabiguru]
“Fireflies” (1926)
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Alt. trans.:
"God honours me when I work,
He loves me when I sing."
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We, ignorant of ourselves,
Beg often our own harms, which the wise powers
Deny us for our good; so we find profit by losing of our prayers.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Antony and Cleopatra, Act 2, sc. 1, l. 5
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