July 29, 2008
For some prayer people is a public ostentation. For others, such as Barack Obama, it was meant as a private matter between himself and his Creator.
In his travels to Jerusalem last week, Senator Obama visited the sacred West Wall. Many visitors to the 2,000-year-old Western Wall leave notes in its crevices bearing requests and prayers. Obama placed a small note and then bowed his head during a pre-dawn visit Thursday, following a day spent in talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
In a gross violation of tradition, the note was removed from the wall by a Jewish seminary student immediately after Obama left. He turned it over to an Israeli newspaper, Maariv, which published Obama's prayer, with a photo of his handwritten note. This act drew sharp criticism Friday as an invasion of his privacy and his relationship with God.
The rabbi in charge of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitz, called it an intrusion on Obama's intimate relationship with God.
"The notes placed between the stones of the Western Wall are between a person and his maker. It is forbidden to read them or make any use of them," Rabinovitz said, adding that the newspaper "damages the Western Wall and damages the personal, deep part of every one of us that we keep to ourselves," he added.
All of us, even agnostics and atheists, have uttered or written payers, if not to God, then to the Universe. Our personal conversations are not meant for ideologues, paparazzi or the public. It is despicable that this privacy would be invaded, either by an individual or by the State.
But Obama's prayer is now public. It is a beautiful prayer, revealing a humility akin to that of Abraham Lincoln during our nation's most perilous time, the Civil War. For this humility I applaud him:
Few presidents have entered the White House facing the crises which Obama will meet. I believe his religious faith will, like Lincoln's, help sustain him.
The evidence of Abraham Lincoln's own practice of personal prayer is so abundant that no thoughtful person can deny it. He prayed alone, and he called the nation to prayer; he prayed for guidance, and he prayed in gratitude; he prayed in defeat, and he prayed in victory. Often noted was his reverence when others engaged in vocal prayer. Along with his unashamed reverence, however, went a large measure of personal reticence. Though Lincoln's personal nurse, Mrs. Pomeroy said that she heard the President praying aloud in the White House, we have no text of any vocal prayer uttered by him.
I respect that Senator Obama has a strong religious faith. Further, I respect that he does not wield his faith as a political weapon or claim that God tells him to destroy "Muslim heathens" and innocent children in war. I respect that he is a man of peace and compassion who opens his heart to the Universe and to other people. I respect him most of all because he is a compassionate humanist who listens to the prayerful voices of our planet pleading to us.
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