Kate’s Congressional Moment

Last month, I had the honor of giving the opening prayer for the United States House of Representatives. The invitation, which comes from the Chaplain of the House, arrives with strict instructions: The prayer can be no more than 150 words in length, and must be submitted ahead of time for inclusion in the Congressional Record. It should contain no foreign words, references to the holidays of other countries (“Happy Bastille Day!”) or political content, and visiting clergy are reminded that the House of Representatives is a diverse body, so sensitivity to other faiths is strongly recommended. Upon consideration, all of the above makes sense. Given the chance to address a group whose activities are regarded with chronic disapproval by a majority of Americans there is the temptation to give a polemic instead of a prayer, or to be scripturally snarky (“forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do…”) or just to drone on and on… And, anyway, limitations often (if paradoxically) make for more creativity rather than less.

This is what I came up with:

Prayer for the United States House of Representatives
January 24, 2012

St. Francis of Assisi advises us to pray constantly
If necessary, he says, use words. [Join me as you will in a spirit of prayer?]

Our prayer today arises from a house of words
From a nation rooted in words.
We do not derive our identity as Americans from our color or our creed
From our wealth or power
Nor even from the land itself
(though we do love the land)
Rather, by your grace, America is America through its words:
That all men are created equal
That all are endowed with inalienable rights
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
These beautiful, necessary words
God, may every word spoken and written from this chamber
Contain an echo of those words
May our words, too, be necessary and true
May our words remember and inspire
The brave, compassionate action that is
And always has been
America’s finest prayer.

You can watch it on line too:

Go to www.houselive.gov

Click on “video” next to January 24
which will take a moment to load…

Scroll slowly down the list underneath the video on the left (important)
and you will get to “Doctor Kate Braestrup…”

Click on that…the video will load and open upon a slightly confusing
scene of people milling around….and as you watch (quivering with anticipation)
you’ll see the action start…

After the prayer (don’t blink, it’s a quickie!) there will be the pledge of
allegiance, followed by Congressman Michaud’s remarks.

Incidentally, the lectern at which I spoke is the very same one from which President Obama delivered the State of the Union address that evening! Now I know why presidents always look uncomfortable at these events: They ARE uncomfortable. The space between the lectern and the wall behind is not generous, and the lectern seems to be placed at exactly the wrong height, so it’s hard to know what to do with your hands.


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