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.

“...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.

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