The Common Good

Praying the Hand

I do not remember where I learned the idea that the hand represents a pattern of prayer. I do not recall my mother or other teachers teaching it to me. I cannot cite the source of it in a book or article.

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Look at your hand.

Consider the thumb. The opposable thumb is able to touch all the other fingers on the hand and gives the hand its dexterity. It allows us to break, shape, mold, make our imaginations into reality. The hand cannot do much without the thumb. The thumb represents God.

God is. God is the I AM. God is the source, creator, first cause, unmovable mover, the All in All. God is transcendent mind and Divine Love. Our prayers ought to begin with this recognition.

Consider the next finger, the pointing finger. It indicates. We use it to differentiate, select, direct our attention, and to beckon. This finger reminds us that where we focus our attention is a choice. It reminds us that we can choose to focus our attention on the problem, or we can focus on the solution. For believers, God is the solution. So, in this portion of our prayer, we praise and magnify God.

The middle finger is the tallest finger on the hand. This is the finger that reminds us to give thanks. The tallest, longest, greatest portion of our prayers ought to be thanksgiving. We thank God for what God has done, is doing and will do in our lives. We thank God for the good, bad, beautiful, ugly, for the triumphs and the tragedies. We thank God for it all because we know: "All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) We thank God for his every gift. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning." (James 1:17)

Next is the ring finger. It is our relationship finger. It is the finger that reminds us of our promises to others and of their promises to us. This finger reminds us to pray intercession for others. We ought to pray for the people we love and for our enemies. We pray for people we know and for strangers. We have an obligation to pray for all our leaders. We pray for both the victims and the perpetrators of violence. We ought to bless all of creation in our spoken and unspoken prayers and even with our praying tears.

The little finger represents our prayers for ourselves. It at once reminds us of our insignificance and of our importance. Our faith tells us that we do not need to spend much of our time giving God our personal wish list. God knows what we need and is able to supply our every need according to God's riches and glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19) At the same time, we ought to ask for what we want so that God may be glorified. There comes a point in our faith where our prayer becomes:"God, what can I do for you?"

In January more than a million believers will offer special prayers for peace in both corporate worship and in their personal prayers. Michael Rosemblum, a God's Politics reader, informed me of this effort. Biblical wisdom teaches: "The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective." (James 5:16) Let us stand on this truth.

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Peace.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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