It is rare that public prayer or talk of prayer is anything other than awkward, embarrassing, or infuriating. When politicians start praying it really gets creepy - because it seems self-commendatory rather than genuinely grateful. But Barack Obama has managed what I did not think possible: to give an address at the National Prayer Breakfast that is both inspiring and humble - while being serious about policy. Below is the closing - but read the whole thing.
Mark read a letter from Billy Graham, and it took me back to one of the great honors of my life, which was visiting Reverend Graham at his mountaintop retreat in North Carolina, when I was on vacation with my family at a hotel not far away.
And I can still remember winding up the path up a mountain to his home. Ninety-one years old at the time, facing various health challenges, he welcomed me as he would welcome a family member or a close friend. This man who had prayed great prayers that inspired a nation, this man who seemed larger than life, greeted me and was as kind and as gentle as could be.
And we had a wonderful conversation. Before I left, Reverend Graham started praying for me, as he had prayed for so many Presidents before me. And when he finished praying, I felt the urge to pray for him. I didn’t really know what to say. What do you pray for when it comes to the man who has prayed for so many? But like that verse in Romans, the Holy Spirit interceded when I didn’t know quite what to say.
And so I prayed -- briefly, but I prayed from the heart. I don’t have the intellectual capacity or the lung capacity of some of my great preacher friends here that have prayed for a long time. (Laughter.) But I prayed. And we ended with an embrace and a warm goodbye.
And I thought about that moment all the way down the mountain, and I’ve thought about it in the many days since. Because I thought about my own spiritual journey –- growing up in a household that wasn’t particularly religious; going through my own period of doubt and confusion; finding Christ when I wasn’t even looking for him so many years ago; possessing so many shortcomings that have been overcome by the simple grace of God. And the fact that I would ever be on top of a mountain, saying a prayer for Billy Graham –- a man whose faith had changed the world and that had sustained him through triumphs and tragedies, and movements and milestones –- that simple fact humbled me to my core.
I have fallen on my knees with great regularity since that moment -- asking God for guidance not just in my personal life and my Christian walk, but in the life of this nation and in the values that hold us together and keep us strong. I know that He will guide us. He always has, and He always will. And I pray his richest blessings on each of you in the days ahead.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)