Friday, February 4, 2011

My trip to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.

I just arrived last night from a driving journey to Washington, D.C. and back for the purpose of attending the National Prayer Breakfast. The event was held at the Hilton Hotel on Connecticut Ave N.W. Remember that is the hotel where President Regan was shot by John Hinkely. Needless to say the security was intense. Yet, when I sat down I found the atmosphere almost jovial. There were diplomats, heads of state, and elected officials from the Congress, clergy and people of faith from all the religions. Yes, there was outside across the street a very small demonstration by a group condemning religion. What else is new in Washington?
Putting aside the remarks of the President for a moment, there were some really inspiring and entertaining speakers. One of the miners in the Chilean mine accident, Jose Enriquez, spoke of the travails of faith and the spiritual challenges the miners faced inside the mine. With a translator Enriquez told us that when they opened a hole to the miners and sent down food and water, they also sent down a small bible with that person’s name inscribed on the cover to each miner. When the capsules were ready to take each person to the surface, Enriquez insisted that the individuals get on their knees and make a prayer. His point was that religion and spirituality played a paramount role towards enabling the miners to survive this crisis.
Emmy award winning vocalist Alison Krauss stunned the entire audience with her amazing voice. I had never listened to her before but she had a voice that inspired everyone. Then Hollywood film producer Randall Wallace, a man born in small town poverty of Tennessee and then Virginia told his story of the ups and downs of his life and the humility he learned from his grandparents and parents in the rural south. His career as a film producer also took him to the wealth he aspired and back to having nothing. At that point he wrote a script which he ultimately produced called Braveheart. He was a good old fashioned story teller. Very effective.
Elected officials spoke about their prayer breakfast traditions they have in the Congress. Many of these groups usually meet once a week. The speakers from the US Senate or the House of Representatives all lauded these experiences as the most meaningful of their week. Yes it was nice to see the bipartisan participation in the program as well as in the audience. They read from Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.
Then the president spoke. Most news reports televised his comments on Egypt. Of course that is to be expected. But I really liked what he had to say through the rest of his remarks. He spoke about his own prayer life and how he as a community organizer in Chicago without religious affiliation worked with clergy. It was there that he became a Christian. He also spoke about the need to balance in his spiritual life the foundation of his core values with the need to respect others with completely opposing political views. He spoke about his wife and thanked her for tolerated him. (That is universal with most men with any brains!) Then he spoke of his praying on his older daughter who is of age now that she is going to her first school dances. He spoke of “Boys” and the length of her party dresses. Boy did that resonate with everyone!
Finally Captain Mark Kelly, the astronaut and husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords from Tucson, Arizona spoke and delivered the benediction. He discussed his transformation of spirit and discussed how he the astronaut and science guy used to see the world and human events as completely arbitrary. Now he has a different understanding about destiny and the power of the human spirit. He took me by surprise when he concluded his remarks by saying that he would read the benediction from the prayer that his wife’s Rabbi recited over her hospital bed. That was truly a blessing moment. Her Rabbi is Stephanie Aron. I do not know her but it makes us all proud to see a rabbi being an effective comfort to her congregant.

After it was all done, I took a cab over to the Dirksen office building and met up with our Congressman Joe Wilson. His staff and I walked over to the Capital building where Joe and I discussed the situation in Cairo. I will save this for another blog. For now I will say that one can feel the change in the American Foreign Policy establishment towards Middle East policy. Change is coming. I do not know what it is but it is happening behind the scenes.
I am glad I went. More to report to you over the weekend.
We shall talk on Sunday.


Anonymous said...

Rabbi - I read all your posts and think about your comments long afterwards. The blog on the Prayer Breakfast was a unique description of the event: how else would I know what it was really like? Keep it up, its so appreciated.
Paula Flink

judik22 said...

Wow! It sounds awesome...moving...important. I look forward to hearing more about it from you.

Andy said...

Great trip and wonderfukl experience Rabbi Brad, but what did ya'll have for Breakfast with the BIG CHEESE?