This week’s prayer is from a series of prose sermons called God’s Trombones, written by James Weldon Johnson, published in 1927. Many of us know James Weldon Johnson as the author of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and the renowned Creation poem. He and his brother also wrote and published one of the earliest, most comprehensive collections of African-American Spirituals. The imagery in this prayer is reminiscent of the traditional invocation at Black churches on Sunday mornings in his day.
O Lord, we come this morning
Knee-bowed and body-bent
Before thy throne of grace.
O Lord — this morning —
Bow our hearts beneath our knees,
And our knees in some lonesome valley.
We come this morning —
Like empty pitchers to a full fountain,
With no merits of our own.
O Lord — open up a window of heaven,
And lean out far over the battlements of glory,
And listen this morning.
Lord, have mercy on proud and dying sinners —
Sinners hanging over the mouth of hell,
Who seem to love their distance well.
Lord — ride by this morning —
Mount your milk-white horse,
And ride-a this morning —
And in your ride, ride by old hell,
Ride by the dingy gates of hell,
And stop poor sinners in their headlong plunge.
And now, O Lord, this man of God,
Who breaks the bread of life this morning —
Shadow him in the hollow of thy hand,
And keep him out of the gunshot of the devil.
Take him, Lord — this morning —
Wash him with hyssop inside and out,
Hang him up and drain him dry of sin.
Pin his ear to the wisdom-post,
And make his words sledge hammers of truth —
Beating on the iron heart of sin.
Lord God, this morning —
Put his eye to the telescope of eternity,
And let him look upon the paper walls of time.
Lord, turpentine his imagination,
Put perpetual motion in his arms,
Fill him full of the dynamite of thy power,
Anoint him all over with the oil of thy salvation,
And set his tongue on fire.
And now, O Lord —
When I’ve done drunk my last cup of sorrow —
When I’ve been called everything but a child of God —
When I’m done travelling up the rough side of the mountain —
O — Mary’s Baby —
When I start down the steep and slippery steps of death —
When this old world begins to rock beneath my feet —
Lower me to my dusty grave in peace
To wait for that great gittin’ up morning — Amen.
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God’s Trombones, Johnson’s collection of sermons is available online here: