Praying Hands


These days, prayer is often seen as insignificant. We place it on our programs as a kind gesture, a pleasantry extended out of respect for our Elder God. It is a routine remark given—though not out of necessity.

Instead, it is the right thing to do, the nice thing to say. Now associated with political condolences after tragedy, prayer has come to be reviled, resented even. Met with rolling eyes, it represents inaction because time and time again, they say, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family.”

But, we too are to blame for the declining interest in prayer. Often times, it is rehearsed, rehashed, repeated, the same stale and predictable words offered at meal after meal, served at event after event, presented year after year—as if God is not listening, does not care or tire of the same conversation, same compliments, same requests for more or less of this or that. It is a surprise that God does not interrupt us to say, “Let me stop you. I’ve heard this one before.”

And yet, we are not really comfortable with prayer. Talking to a God unseen, it can feel awkward and childish. It might feel more like we are conversing with an invisible friend rather than the Eternal God.

Prayer is viewed then as a hurdle, a hindrance, a hiccup, a minor delay. It is as if prayer gets in the way, that if we did not need to pray we would be farther along. So, we hurry to get it over with. “Let’s pray so that we can get down to business.”

But, prayer is the business. Prayer does not impede our work. Prayer is the work, as hands folded are the busiest and most productive.

Praying hands are not for greeting cards, figurines for bookshelves, and cheap wall art. Prayer is not to be viewed as sentimental, ornamental, or decorative. We don’t pray because it is the right thing to do but because it is the only thing to do.

Not to pray is the mark of spiritual laziness. Prayer is the only use of words that will never lose its meaning and effectiveness. Words offered in prayer are never wasted.

Praying hands are working hands, unified members, joined together for a collective conversation. Fingers divided, young and spread thin, frail and wrinkled, well-manicured or with broken nails and abandoned cuticles, all possess the same strength and possibilities. All praying hands are the same.

So, put them together. They are a signal, our holy smoke used to get God’s attention. Our fingers are the embers, little fire starters.

And praying hands are our modern-day burning bush, the seemingly impossible union of divine and human, flesh and Spirit, heaven and earth. It is a miracle that we are not consumed, that we are not at a loss for words. But in the event that we are, we need only let our fingers, those praying hands, do the talking.

smcneillReverend Starlette Thomas* is an associate pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland and the Minister to Empower Congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. She writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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  1. Thanks for this. I’ll be referencing it with a group of our lay people who are discerning how to motivate our congregation to focus mods on prayer