The deep baritone voice calmly asks God to “save us from the madness,” and to forgive U.S. senators for their blunders, their stubborn pride, and for putting politics ahead of progress.
The voice belongs to Barry Black, the Senate chaplain, who offers a prayer every morning at the start of daily proceedings and since the partial government shutdown began on Oct. 1 he’s been weaving the day’s political events into those prayers.
Some of them have taken on a rather sharp tone, almost scolding the senators for the impasse that has forced thousands of federal workers off the job with no paycheque.
Black said in an interview with CBC News that he’s speaking out, but not taking sides. “I try to ensure that my prayers are non-partisan. They may be political because that’s the milieu I operate in but they are non-partisan,” he said. “Any statement I make I think can be applied to people on both sides of the aisle.”
'Prayer is not something that is foreign on Capitol Hill and I’m not the only one praying.'- U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black
He prays for God to look after those affected by the shutdown and to guide lawmakers on Capitol Hill to “do what is best for America.”
“Inspire them to take a step back from partisanship and a step forward toward patriotism, striving to strengthen and not weaken this land we love,” he said in one recent prayer.
"Today, give our lawmakers the vision and the willingness to see and do your will. Remove from them that stubborn pride which imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism. Forgive them for the blunders they have committed, infusing them with the courage to admit and correct mistakes. Amen," he said in another.
No death benefits for military families
The day news emerged that military families weren’t getting death benefits paid to them because of the shutdown, Black didn’t hide his frustration.
"That really hit home for me," he said in the interview. Black served in the navy for 27 years, was a rear admiral, and finished his military career as chief of navy chaplains.
“The idea that our failure would bring additional burdens to people already overwhelmed by grief, I mean that just provided the fuel for my reflection and my meditation,” he said.
The prayer he had already written for that morning, Oct. 9, went out the window. Black sat at his computer and within four minutes had banged out a new one: “Lord, when our federal shutdown delays payments of death benefits to the families of children dying on faraway battlefields it’s time for our lawmakers to say enough is enough,“ one line of it said.
The 64-year-old pastor has been the Senate chaplain for a decade and he said he knows the legislative process is partisan and adversarial. “I don’t always expect Kumbaya moments,” he said.
Years of partisan bickering playing out before him day after day hasn’t made him cynical though. Black said he takes strength and inspiration from above to stay positive.
But, “it’s a challenging time,” he allows. “The closer we get to deadlines, the smaller the margin for error and that’s what makes me nervous.”
He draws on political events of the day for his prayers. He reads at least 10 chapters of the Bible every day, and incorporates what he hears from those who work on Capitol Hill, Black explained. Senators give him feedback on his prayers and he also talks to those who attend a weekly Bible study group on Capitol Hill and a weekly prayer breakfast.
“Prayer is not something that is foreign on Capitol Hill and I’m not the only one praying,” said Black.