The Washington Post

Senate Chaplain puts debt debate into fervent context

Senate Chaplain Barry Black has been invoking prayers with ever-increasing intensity for the chamber to reach an agreement on the debt ceiling. (Drew Angerer/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

As the Senate has mired itself in bickering and deadlock this week, there has been at least one voice reflecting the panic rising in the country.

It’s been the deep, solemn intonations of the Senate’s chaplain, retired rear Adm. Barry C. Black.

A longtime Navy chaplain and Seventh-Day Adventist minister, Black opens Senate sessions with a brief prayer. Over the past few days — as the country slid closer to a national default — those prayers seem to have revealed Black as one of the most worried people in the chamber.

Back on July 20, Black was speaking only in hopeful generalities. In the prayer that began that session, he asked the Almighty to “give to our lawmakers the wisdom to know the role they should play, in keeping freedom’s holy light bright.”

But as the days passed by, it became apparent that the Senate was not showing any more wisdom than it had previously. By last Tuesday, Black’s request indicated that his senators might need more divine help.

“Keep them,” he prayed, “from the pit of disunity and discord. And empower them to build bridges of cooperation. Give them the courage and humility to do what is right, knowing that you are the only constituent they absolutely must please.”

But lawmakers only descended further into that pit of disunity.

So Black’s prayers began to warn of the consequences if the Senate did not straighten up and act right.

“Lord,” he prayed on Wednesday, “as our nation faces the potentially catastrophic, inspire our lawmakers to seek your counsel which will stand forever.”

Still nothing. The two sides remained far apart, and the “potentially catastrophic” crept closer.

On Friday, Black dialed it up another notch.

“Lord, help them to comprehend the global repercussions of some poor decisions, and the irreversibility of some tragic consequences,” he prayed. “Quicken their ears to hear. Their eyes to see. Their hearts to believe and their wills to obey you. Before...”

And here, Black slowed down his usual stately cadence even further, in case people weren’t getting it.

“ is. too late.”

Nothing. On Saturday, Black seemed to be more specific with God: “We need you on Capitol Hill,” he said.

And his warnings to the lawmakers became even more dire. He spoke of “when night comes” — a reference to a verse from the Bible’s Book of John, where night is a metaphor for death.

“Deliver our lawmakers from the paralysis of analysis, when constructive and prompt action is desperately needed,” he asked. “Faced with potentially disastrous consequences, give the members of this body the wisdom to work while it is day. For the night comes, when no one can work.”

Finally, on Sunday morning, Black gave a prayer that might have fit for the crew of a sinking ship.

“The waters are coming in upon us,” Black said. “We are weary from the struggle, tempted to throw in the towel. But quitting isn’t an option.”

After he spoke, the Senate said the Pledge of Allegiance. And then Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) got up to speak, hopefully, of the possibility of a deal to end the crisis.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The New Hampshire primary is today. Get caught up on the race.
New Hampshire primary: What to expect
New Hampshire is holding a traditional primary just eight days after the Iowa caucuses. Polling in the Granite state has historically been volatile in the final weeks before the primary. After the Iowa caucuses, many New Hampshire voters cement their opinions.
The Post's Ed O'Keefe says ...
Something has clicked for Bush in New Hampshire in the past few days. What has transpired by no means guarantees him a top-tier finish in Tuesday’s Republican primary here, but the crowds turning out to see him are bigger, his delivery on the stump is crisper and some of his key rivals have stumbled. At the least, the developments have mostly silenced talk of a hasty exit and skittish donors.
The feminist appeal may not be working for Clinton
In New Hampshire, Sen. Bernie Sanders is beating Clinton among women by eight percentage points, according to a new CNN-WMUR survey. This represents a big shift from the results last week in the Iowa caucuses, where Clinton won women by 11 points.
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She left the state Sunday to go to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
56% 41%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.