The power of prayer?

AP Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks to reporters about the fiscal cliff negotiations at the Capitol in … Continued


Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks to reporters about the fiscal cliff negotiations at the Capitol in Washington on Dec. 21, 2012. Hopes for avoiding the “fiscal cliff” that threatens the U.S. economy fell Friday after fighting among congressional Republicans cast doubt on whether any deal reached with President Obama could win approval ahead of automatic tax increases and deep spending cuts kick in Jan. 1.

In admitting he did not have the votes for the fiscal cliff Thursday night, House Speaker John Boehner read a portion of the Serenity Prayer, adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous for inspiration: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Public prayer is treacherous territory for politicians, too often signaling far more meaning than they may intend. A prayer is only as good as the individual from whose lips it passes, and people can pray for evil or good, as suggested by the Koran, 17:11 – but an even worse tactic for political leaders are prayers that relay doubt or resignation.

Going on to describe “accepting hardships” and “trusting He will make all things right,” the Serenity Prayer does not suit a political issue like the fiscal cliff. The cliff is a political construct. If politicians created automatic deadlines for taxes and budget reductions, then they can alter them. By doing nothing, a refusal to vote for a tax hike for some, the House Republicans are raising taxes on all.

As a literary device, prayer can take on many forms and emotions – persuasion, desperation, conversation, relief, gratitude, joy, admiration, proclamation, even smugness, meditation, scolding, outburst, fear, chanting, doubt, resignation or failure. Or employing prayer in political speech can be perfunctory, rote and meaningless, as is the case with “God bless America” which has come to serve as a handy conclusion to State of the Union speeches in recent years. Only rarely do politicians use prayer to emphasize common ground and hopes and lofty moral goals without judgment and superiority.

More often, prayers from politicians and their supporters relay messages that God favors one side over another, as relayed by Mark Twain in “The War Prayer.” As a preacher rallies families of troops headed off to war, wishing them glory and victory, a stranger approaches the pulpit. He taps the preacher’s arm and takes over, shocking the congregation by proclaiming that he is a messenger from God: “Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.”

Then he proceeds to pray for unspeakable horrors for the soldiers on the other side: “for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! “

Prayers, uttered in private, whether they’re seeking change in our own selves or others, are more subtle, poetic and pure. Parents dream, obsess, pray on shaping the young lives that are their responsibility, as described by William Butler Yeats in “A Prayer for My Daughter:”

And for an hour I have walked and prayed

Because of the great gloom that is in my mind….

May she be granted beauty and yet not

Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,

Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,

Being made beautiful overmuch,

Consider beauty a sufficient end,

Lose natural kindness and maybe

The heart-revealing intimacy

That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Another poem, “A Prayer in Spring” by Robert Frost, expresses private appreciation for nature and the year’s beginning:

For this is love and nothing else is love,

The which it is reserved for God above

To sanctify to what far ends He will,

But which it only needs that we fulfill.

The mysteries of spirituality are best addressed with private prayer. Public, political endeavors are best served by the power of example, cooperation and effort.

Susan Froetschel is the author of “Fear of Beauty,” a novel set in Afghanistan, about a woman’s struggle to learn to read with the help of the Koran


    The “serenity prayer” is big with DRUNKS.

  • itsthedax

    The thing is, Boehner had the ability to make a deal with the democrats. He could have reached out to them and put together enough votes to pass a compromise bill. He simply lacked the character to be bipartisan.

  • jburnetti

    He doesn’t need serenity. He needs a sense of urgency. Here’s one way to give him one. The problem with the Fiscal Cliff is that it doesn’t look so scary from where Congress is standing. How about a law that says that after October 1st of every year, if there’s no budget an no appropriations bill, no member of Congress shall collect a salary or fringe benefits, including medical insurance, until they do their jobs. They or there families get sick – time to pull out their own private checkbook. No retroactive payments allowed either.

  • Top8305

    Have mercy, please.

    When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
    Mark 2:17 (NRSV)


    I’m just suggesting that Boner is a DRUNK.

    The overuse of tanning is a way to hide the incipient gin blossoms.

    He sure governs like he’s a drunk.

  • Secular1

    This is absurd nonsense (one may ask isn’t nonsense itself absurd Guilty as charged). How do these people who cannot present a single shred of evidence that there is any supernatural creature existing. But then they go off building mighty edifices, such as prayers, rituals, personal entreaties, indulgences, etc, etc. In fact it has been emphatically and unequivocally show that the prayer has absolute zero beneficial effects and also cursing has the same amount of negative effect of the cursed.

    Boehener is a superstitious idiot, who panders to the disillusioned. WMarkW one distinction between Obama taking to prayer is providing a solace to the ones who are grieving, whereas Boehner’s praying is to signal to his cohorts that he is just as deluded as each of them. You perhaps, may contend that it is a distinction without merit. I might agree with that, except that in case of Obama teh motivation was noble, but in case of Boehner the motivation was CYA that anything else. I should admit that, it alwatys makes me cringe when a POLs invoke the imaginary super creature. More so when it is a Democrat invokes than a GOPer.

  • sendthemback

    Obama is a political player….don’t believe anything that comes out of his mouth to be his truth….or i guess it’s his “truth of the day”…. tomorrow the “brotherhood”……

    He is not stupid does he think we are…..and Ms. Quinn you are a part of the Obama Choir…….liar choir….!!!!!

  • Rongoklunk

    To say Obama’s not religious is to praise him. I agree. He just seems too smart to swallow the ancient god-hypothesis, but as president he has to pretend to believe it because of the religious vote. I’m sure he’ll be open about this one day and admit that his thinking has “evolved” from superstitious beliefs to commonsense and science.
    It’s inevabbul – inefatoble – imevibul – inevitable. It’s bound to happen. The trend is away from religion and towards atheism.

  • Rongoklunk

    He comes across as the redneck racist who keeps a shotgun in his truck and is sympathetic to the KKK. One mean mother…

  • Rongoklunk

    It’s like the last thing he wants to do is give the black guy a hand.

  • GEVO

    Of course the problem with everyone who posted here is their confusion, God is not religion.. That was created by mankind. And he know that, and that’s why he doesn’t try to pimp God.

  • Union1

    Ain’t that the truth in a nutshell!

  • West Stillman

    It would have been good if President Obama had talked about God less in the speech that he gave during the prayer vigil for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary. It’s important for elected officials, when acting in their roles as elected officials, not to favor religion over non-religion. The government of a given society represents each person in the society. So, the government should try not to favor some individuals over others. For example, the speech would have been less good if Obama had said: “I know there is no God, and all those children no longer exist. They are dead and will never be conscious again. So, it is important for us to make the world better, so that there are fewer instances in the future in which people’s existences are cut short.”

Read More Articles

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.