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Draw near: Worshipping God with Desmond Tutu

Lynne Baab • Tuesday September 6 2022

Draw near: Worshipping God with Desmond Tutu

In this short series of four blog posts (within a larger series on prayer), I am honoring Desmond Tutu – South African archbishop, human rights activist, and Nobel Peace prize laureate, who died in December at the age of 90. In the mid-1990s he compiled a collection of prayers from all over Africa called An African Prayer Book. Here’s his introduction to the section of the book on adoration.

“All of us are by nature worshipful. We may worship God to whom we ascribe his due, his worth. This 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, moonlight night with the stars winking in a dark blue sky? . . .

“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 those 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.’”
—Desmond Tutu, introduction to adoration, An African Prayer Book

Here’s a prayer from An African Prayer Book that mirrors Archbishop Tutu’s words about praise. It can be read as a litany, with two groups of people reading alternate lines, but it also works well as a prayer for one person. I invite you to pray these words alongside the Christians in Cape Town who wrote this prayer:

A Litany of Rejoicing

For rebirth and resilience,
Blessed be God;
For the spiritually humble,
Glory to God, hallelujah.
For those who are hungry and thirsty for justice,
Praise him and magnify him forever;
For all who are banned for speaking the truth,
Blessed be God.
For all who triumph over their bitter circumstance
Glory to God, hallelujah!
For all who risk reputation, livelihood and life itself for Christ’s sake and the gospel;
All praise and glory; this is God’s kingdom, praise him and love him forever and ever. Amen.

Some questions to ponder:

  • Do you agree that people are by nature worshipful? What various things do you see people worshipping?
  • What are you tempted to worship in place of God?
  • Have you ever experienced what the farmer that Archbishop Tutu describes: “I look at him and he looks at me and it is enough”? Are there places or situations that make it more likely that you will experience those moments?
  • What actions, habits, places, or relationships help you enter into praise?

(Next week: yearning, beseeching, beholding with Desmond Tutu. Illustration by Dave Baab: Mount Rainier and Lake Washington from Seward Park, Seattle. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

Previous posts on worship:



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