By Harriet P. Gross
This is America’s National Day of Prayer. What an interesting concept for a nation that seems to have ongoing difficulties interpreting what “separation of church and state” means.
Our Continental Congress, under the leadership of George Washington, first recommended, but did not establish, a national Prayer Day way back in 1775. It took until 1952 to make the observance a matter of law. That was the work of Harry S. Truman, who endorsed such a day, but said that every president should be free to pick the date of his choice. Truman’s was the first Thursday in May, followed by his successors, and finally named for official annual observance in 1988.
Truman’s idea, like Washington’s, was that all religions should unite just once a year for simultaneous prayer. Of course there would be objections, as there are today. As recently as April 2011, the Freedom From Religion Foundation entered an appellate court challenge to the constitutionality of the day. The group might have been satisfied if the words “humiliation” and “fasting” were added to “prayer,” as suggested, but no such action was taken.
So here we are on America’s 62nd National Day of Prayer. All over our country, people are approaching God in the various ways of their choice, to give thanks or to petition for better days to come. Or inevitably, to look back at Newtown and Boston and West, and ask “Why?” There’s little chance of receiving direct answers, but we can all take comfort in the fact that, as a nation, we have truly been united by these tragedies; their destructions and devastations and deaths have somehow brought us together, if only for a moment.
The National Day of Prayer is just that: a moment in our country’s time. So I’m using this time, this day, to share a few prayers with you.
My favorite, what I call “the all-purpose prayer,” is what I’ve used many times when asked to give the benediction at gatherings of people of many faiths: “As a group, we must strive to meet our common goals, and so I ask, May God send us enough joy to keep our hearts singing … enough hope to enrich our lives … enough trials to keep us strong … enough leisure to refresh our spirits … and enough love to make our world seem beautiful.”
A prayer from our Jewish tradition, which has unquestioned application to all people: “Lord, let there be love and understanding among us. Let friendship be our shelter from life’s storms. Help us to walk with good companions, to live with hope in our hearts and eternity in our thoughts, that we may lie down at night in peace, and rise up on the morning ready to do your will. Eternal God, we give thanks for the gift of life, wonder beyond words; for the awareness of soul, our light within; for the world around us, so filled with beauty; for the richness of the earth, which day by day sustains us. For all of these and for the fellowship we share, we offer thanks.”
From Pauline Phillips, the original “Dear Abby”: “O Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for food and remember the hungry. We thank Thee for health and remember the sick. We thank Thee for freedom and remember the enslaved. May these remembrances stir us to service, that Thy gifts to us may be used for others.”
And finally this, again from our Judaism’s treasure trove, something truly and especially appropriate on this fractious year’s National Day of Prayer: “May it be your will, O Lord our God and God of our ancestors, to guide us in peace, and to direct our steps in peace, to bring us to peace, and to lead us in life, in joy and peace. You are our God who hears all prayers and petitions. Blessed are you, O Lord, who hears our prayers.”
Please take the time to pray today. Amen.