Outstretched Wings of the Spirit--Day Twenty-six

The Twenty-sixth Day              
(Sunday, March 31, 2019)


“We do not form ideas about prayer until after we find ourselves practicing it. It is one of the vital functions of human living, like talking and tool-making, which spring up quite spontaneously. We did not first develop the idea that we ought to pray and then begin. We did not first discover the god of our prayer and decide to address prayers to such a one. Our first prayers would scarcely be recognized as such by one who has learned to pray from socially established patterns. Rather they were impulsive cries of joy and need, appeals for help and for sympathy. 

“The difference between prayer and magic is that prayer is an attempt to address the personality in such a way as to attain community of interest and creative interaction. Magic, on the other hand, is an attempt to exercise coercive power to get results, either directly or through controlling a deity or other spirit or force. The efficacy of prayer depends on the adjustment of the personality to some reality in such a way as to attain desired ends. The efficacy of magic consists of the precision with which the words or gestures are performed which have the coercive power. Since prayer is an adjustment of the total personality seeking community of interest in creative interaction, it is a moral and religious undertaking. Since magic does not involve any such endeavor, it is not moral or religious. . . .” (Wieman & Wieman)

We all pray, whether we know it or not. Prayer is natural to us, for we instinctively feel ourselves to be part of Something far greater than ourselves, to which we need successfully to relate. In times of crisis, we pray spontaneously. The important skill to learn is how to pray intelligently and seriously daily so as to grow gradually into mutuality with the Superhuman Reality. It has been said that “Our extremity is God’s opportunity,” but it is better to be in relation with ultimate resources before the crisis arrives. Then it may be faced and resolved more easily and soundly. (Donald Szantho Harrington)


Universal Being-Becoming, help us to learn how to open ourselves to awareness of Your Omnipresence, and to accord all our doings with Your evolving character. For Yours is the Power which lifts us up on high when our prayers are sincere and germane. Amen.


Almighty, while our hearts unlearn
The creeds that wrong thy name,
Still let our hallow’d altars burn
With faith’s undying flame!

Not by the lightening gleams of wrath
Our souls thy face shall see.
The star of love must light the path
That leads to heav’n and thee.

—Oliver Wendell Holmes (Hymns of the Spirit, no. 235)

Donald Szantho Harrington wrote the Lenten meditation manual Outstretched Wings of the Spirit: On Being Intelligently and Devotedly Religiousbased on the theology of Henry Nelson Wieman and Regina Westcott Wieman. It was published by the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1980.