Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Our first president and prayer

Some say there are two things which aren't discussed in polite company: religion and politics. Now in the age of political correctness, efforts to privatize faith is pushed even more aggressively. Such an idea was foreign to our founders. George Washington, in his Presidential Farewell Address, said religion and morality were indispensable supports to our political order. But beyond that Washington understood the importance of prayer in his private life.

As Michael Novak writes in his book Washington’s God, during the Revolutionary War Washington assistants and fellow generals noted times when they heard Washington praying in his private quarters. Some reportedly found Washington praying on his knees when they entered his quarters unannounced.
And it’s interesting to note that he personally fasted. Novak points to a Washington diary entry in 1774, “June 1st. Went to church and fasted all day.”

After the war, Novak notes that Washington sent a letter to the various states in which he prays that God “would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were characteristics of the divine author of our blessed religion.”

During his presidency he issued the first prayer proclamation where he said “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits and humbly to implore His protection and favor. I do recommend that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks…”

Certainly, Washington didn’t wear his religion on his sleeve. He was reserved in his public religious expression, consistent with his Anglican faith. Yet he personally prayed and had a relationship with God. Interesting, that the man who
British historian Paul Johnson describes as “the central actor in the American Revolution” and “one of the most important figures in world history” saw the importance of prayer in both our nation's public life but also his own private life.

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