Just as the chaplain was ending his invocation of the Lord's intervention as the House of Representatives assembled yesterday for its post-election session, it seemed as though his prayers were heard. Literally.
A cracking sound that could have been a bolt of lightning was heard from above.
Actually, all that happened was that a high-intensity light bulb in the ornate ceiling of the House chamber burned out and exploded. But House members, staffers, reporters and tourists whose eyes were averted as the Rev. James D. Ford delivered his opening prayer suddenly looked upward.
As this was happening, a messenger strode in the backdoor of the chamber and added to the confusion by calling out, "Mr. Speaker, a message from the Senate!"
It was, if the truth be known, briefly frightening, considering that in 1954 a group of Puerto Rican nationalists smuggled guns into the visitors' gallery and fired at the members, wounding five of them.
"I thought for a moment that I was at one of those historic events I'd rather not be at," I told my press gallery colleague, Charles McDowell of The Richmond Times-Dispatch. "So did I, so did I," Charley responded.
"It crossed my mind, too," chaplain Ford said later. Before his Capitol Hill appointment in 1978, Ford, a Lutheran, spent 18 years as cadet chaplain at West Point.
Oh, yes. What did Ford pray for? That the Congress show awareness of the needs of the people, and that the lawmakers work in truth and honor to serve whatever their need might be.
Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), unaware of the episode, later delivered a biting satirical attack on Democratic election campaign tactics. Then he added that if he was shaving the truth, a bolt of lightning should strike him down.
"You got here too late," a colleague said as he walked from the well of the House.