History of prayers for president-elect

Americans have a habit of seeking grace in tough times

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008

The night Barack Obama accepted his party's nomination for president in Denver, John McCain appeared in an ad saying:

"Sen. Obama, this is truly a good day for America.

"You know, too often the achievements of our opponents go unnoticed. So I want to stop and say, 'Congratulations. ... Tomorrow we'll be back at it, but tonight, Senator, job well done."'

It was a classy move, and McCain was every bit as gracious and dignified in his concession speech last week. Of course, tradition dictates that we'll be back at the politics and partisanship soon enough. First, though, there's another tradition, offering prayers for our leaders and the nation.

Americans have a habit of seeking grace in tough times.

On July 4, 1861, during the Civil War, this prayer was offered in the Senate:

"Disasters have befallen us and darkness broods in the land. And now we ask Thy mercy. ... Give to thy servants all needed help. Add to their deliberations wisdom and unanimity. ... And we beseech Thee to guide us ... that the disorders of the land may be speedily healed, that peace and concord may prevail, that truth and righteousness may be established. ..."

During World War II, also from the Senate, came this:

"Make that faith of the fathers, we pray, real to us in these tempestuous days. Save us from a freedom of speech so empty that we have nothing worth saying, from a freedom of worship so futile that we have no God to adore. ... Let all that is low and unworthy in us sink to the depths. Let all that is high and fine in us rise to greet the morn of a new day confident that the best is yet to be."

From 1974 in the House, in the days of Watergate and Vietnam:

"Grant that we may highly resolve on this great day to dedicate ourselves anew to the task of ushering in an era when good will shall live in the hearts of a free people, justice shall be the light to guide their feet, and peace shall be the goal of humankind. ..."

Such pleas are not limited to the past. I recently saw this prayer in the Cadet Hymnal at Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Wayne, Pa.:

"Most heartily we beseech Thee, with Thy favour to behold and bless Thy servant, the President of the United States, and all others in authority; and so replenish them with the grace of Thy Holy Spirit, that they may always incline to Thy will, and walk in Thy way. Endue them plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant them in health and prosperity long to live; and finally, after this life, to attain everlasting joy and felicity. ..."

And it's the 21st century, so naturally there are prayers for the new president online, this one posted before Tuesday:

"I will be praying for you. Not praying against you, or about you, but for you. That is both my pledge, and my obligation as a follower of Christ. In the Bible, the apostle Paul writes, 'I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and for all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.'

"And I will do so with a full and undivided heart."

I'll join in those prayers, offering best wishes to the president-elect, his family and the nation.

I'll also pray the nation gets a break from the seemingly endless, exhausting list of natural and man-made crises that have befallen us over the last eight years: Terror attacks on an unprecedented scale. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Katrina and several other devastating hurricanes. The Southeast Asia tsunami. A global financial crisis.

I hope the nation gets a chance to catch its breath, and that the new president has time to chart a successful course through the current crises before more come our way.

And I'll pray that when we're "back at it," the opposition will be principled and always strive to lift up the nation and its people.

Closing thoughts go to two students I met Monday afternoon at West Chester (Pa.) East High School during a meeting of the school's Young Republicans club. I asked the students what their hopes and prayers would be for a new president and offer two eloquent responses.

From junior Kate Crooks, 16: "May you be safe in times of war and peace. May you return to your family a better person than you were before. May you learn the price of being a president and be able to carry that weight. May you remember the hopes and prayers of a great nation rest with you."

And finally, from club president and senior Brittany Meloy, 17:

"I pray that our new commander in chief has the power, strength and virtue to protect our country as he would his own family. And I hope that he never forgets the principles of our country that he has sworn to protect."

Amen.

• Kevin Ferris is the assistant editor of the Editorial Page of the Philadelphia Inquirer.



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