On separate occasions recently, friends have pointed me to George Washington Carver’s prayer practices.
Carver’s name is most often heard during Black History Month, the time when a pantheon of black heroes and she-roes are pulled from dusty textbooks and teachers’ guides and paraded before restless audiences.
Rarely do the historical tidbits of their lives take us beyond the surface of their accomplishments.
In his case, George Washington Carver became known largely for discovering more than 300 uses for the peanut plant and was even called “the Peanut Man,” as I was taught in school.
He was more than that; he did more as a scientist than just work with peanuts. Some called him a mystic because of his spiritual habits and his desire to live life as an instrument for God’s use.
He was a Christian whose belief in Jesus formed the conduit through which he could meld his faith and his science.
This son of a slave found solace and inspiration in nature. Walking alone among the flowers and trees, he listened to hear the voice of God, which he credits for allowing him be able to expand the uses he found for sweet potatoes, pecans, soybeans, walnuts and ochre clay.
He thought of nature as “unlimited broadcasting stations through which God speaks to us” every moment of our day. We just have to tune into God to hear him, Carver explained.
“All my life, I have risen regularly at four o’clock and have gone into the woods and talked with God,” Carver wrote. “There he gives me my orders for the day. Alone there with things I love most, I gather specimens and study the great lessons nature is so eager to teach us all. When people are still asleep, I hear God best and learn my plan.”
Several years ago, I had the opportunity while visiting the state of Alabama to tour the George Washington Carver Museum on the campus of the Tuskegee Institute.
I grew more impressed with Carver while viewing displays of his creations and inventions, including fabric dyes and house paints.
I stared at his oil paintings and took note of the delicate needlepoint he made and the knitting and crocheting he did. I studied the mat he wove from burlap fibers and marveled at the movable school he designed.
It was obvious from the artifacts exhibited in the museum that Carver put his energies into producing items that remain useful to others.
He wrote as much in a letter to Booker T. Washington, who hired him to work as a professor at Tuskegee: “It has always been the one ideal of my life to be of the greatest good to the greatest number of my people possible…”
During his career, Carver was criticized by members of the media for his lack of scientific rigor because he didn’t mind talking about the influence of his spiritual beliefs on his work. But others also praised him as a “scientist humbly seeking the guidance of God.”
That we all would do that as we carry out our duties in our workplaces, as we serve in our churches, and as we tend to our homes and families.
Here is one of the statements that George Washington Carver – I like saying his full name – made about prayer:
“My prayers seem to be more than an attitude than anything else. I indulge in very little lip service, but ask the Great Creator silently daily, and often many times per day to permit me to speak to him through the three great Kingdoms of the world, which he has created, viz. – the Animal, Mineral and Vegetable kingdoms; their relations to each other, our relations to them and the Great God who made all of us. I ask him daily and often momently to give me wisdom, understanding and bodily strength to do His will, hence I am asking and receiving all the time.”
Are your prayer practices helping you hear God and serve others? How?