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Martin Luther King’s Favorite Hymn

Singing words of comfort for those who suffer

Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy (right) unidentified men sing in Selma, Alabama church.

Ever prayed a song, letting the text and the music work through your soul? One of my favorites for that very purpose is the hymn that was evidently Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite, “Precious Lord.”

People often talk about how important surrender is to the spiritual life, letting things go, trusting God. I find that hard to do just with words. Singing a prayer really helps.

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Take a look at that first line, “Precious Lord, take my hand/Lead me on, let me stand/I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m worn…” The music helps me do just that, admitting that I can’t do it all on my own.

The inimitable Thomas A. Dorsey (no, not Tommy Dorsey of dance band fame) evidently wrote the song in 1932 after the death of his wife and child in childbirth. Talk about devastation. What could be worse?

I have never suffered like that, but at those times when I’ve felt very much alone, on the outs with myself, it has been such comfort to sing Dorsey’s tune.

Years ago Dorsey told about his inspiration for writing it in the documentary Say Amen, Somebody, a film I vividly remember seeing when it first came out, tears running down my wife’s cheeks as we listened to the music.

Martin Luther King suffered terribly—more than I can begin to imagine—in his all too brief life. And yet he never gave up. I don’t doubt his faith has helped me. I suspect that this song was one of his tools.

“Through the storm, through the night/Lead me on to the light/Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.” Let it be true.

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