The Most Powerful Prayers in Just One Syllable

Start with these examples and you’re sure to discover more of your own.

Posted in , Feb 12, 2022

Praying with eyes closed

The idea of short one-word prayers is hardly original with me. As you know, Guideposts offers much help in this arena, including a book—available for now as an e-book—with some great examples (okay, I offered a few myself).

Let me also offer up some advice—also not original with me—that comes from a 14th-century anonymous English writer, probably a monk, who authored a wonderful book called The Cloud of Unknowing.

What he suggests—it’s probably a “he”—is using not just single words but words of one syllable, like God, faith, hope, love, Christ, peace, even sin. “Sin?” I wondered. Why “sin?” As the Cloud author writes, “If your word is sin, focus on sin as a lump, impenetrable to your mind, but none other than yourself.”

Yes, I have sinned, and I do sin, and admitting it to God in prayer is a way to be free of sin. After all, it’s there in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Or “trespasses” or “debts.” Whatever translation you’re using, it’s all the same. 

So let me give you some of my favorite single-syllable words of prayer: 

God. This is my favorite. I come back to it again and again. Can you think of three letters that say more? That encompass so much? Using the word “God” in prayer pulls me back to what’s important, what I need to share, what must be at the center of my life.

Peace. There’s never enough of it in the world, and so if I’m using this word in prayer, I’m asking not only for peace in the world but peace also in my heart. The world can only change one person at a time. Or as a song we used to sing puts it, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Love. The more you give, the more you have. Being stingy with love is a losing battle. You give love away, and you get more love back. 

When I pray the word “love” I’m asking for God to fill my heart with God’s perfect love. To love others as I love myself. Jesus commanded us to even love our enemies. Of the three virtues, faith, hope and love—as the Apostle Paul put it—love is the greatest. 

Hope. Hope means looking ahead…hopefully. Full of positive thoughts. The news barrages us with information that makes us look to the future in fear. Hope is just the opposite of that. And I find it impossible to hope without God, without prayer.

Strength. As Jesus said you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength (Luke 10:27). The image that comes to mind is some guy at the gym pumping iron. But I don’t think Jesus is talking just about physical strength but inner strength.

Here again, it’s in the giving that we receive. God gives us strength when we love God with that part of our being. I can feel that strength, that resilience, simply by praying the word.

You’ll have your own set of single-syllable words. Try them.

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