The President & Prayer

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This evening the Pastor and I attended the local observance of the 58th Annual observance of the National Day of Prayer. This year's theme was "Prayer...America's Hope." The occasion was OK. It was Scripture-based with free prayer offered for certain areas of concern (business, family, education, military, government, church). I was only impressed that 50 gathered for prayer for the nation, state and city; I wasn't particularly impressed by the concern for all faiths to be represented. One significant disappointment was that it was too Christian, (too evangelical) and not interfaith. This is not the typical complaint you would ordinarily hear from me but the fact is event was the National Day of Prayer it was designed to be inclusive of the city's various faith traditions. I freely admit that many occasions of prayer done in the interfaith mode are vapid and simply not done well. The representatives of the Jewish and Muslim faiths were not present and neither were the Buddhist monks nor the Episcopalians nor Lutherans. It would've been good to have the clergypeople from the various ecclesial communities and interfaith communities present, but let's be careful not to fall into the trap of essentialism.

The National Day of Prayer was established in 1952 by President Truman and President Reagan determined by resolution in 1988 to observe the day on the first Thursday of May. 

The problem I have with President Obama on this matter is that he decided to sideline public observance of prayer under the guise that he didn't want to wear his faith on his cufflinks. Fine, don't make a show it. But let's be honest, does the President think he can run the country without God? Does he think that his example is good leadership? So, ultimately I can accept that the White House would not have its own prayer time but that they would not attend any of the other prayer observances in the District, including the National Day of Prayer Task Force, I find arrogant.

The President's press secretary Robert Gibbs says that "Prayer is something the President does everyday." Really? I am unconvinced.

Of course, the President can neither tell us to pray nor how to pray but he does open the possibility for the nation to pray for the good of the nation by his own witness. If an atheist were chagrined by a prayer day then that person could simply observe a moment of silence or offer a poem that lends itself to the ideal of patriotism or the common good. Whatever the case may be in today's context, the point is that is important to gather people of good will with the hope of being united in something spiritual, something that takes the other person's destiny seriously.

For those interested in some further thinking on ecumenism and interfaith matters, I recommend Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI's Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions (Ignatius Press, 2004).

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Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]



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This page contains a single entry by Paul Zalonski published on May 7, 2009 9:00 PM.

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