Publishing Obama's prayer…

In a two-year election season we see a lot of ugliness, and a lot of boundaries pushed, and the publishing of Barack Obama’s prayer at the Western Wall – the holiest site in Judaism – is seriously out-of-bounds.

I’m kind of appalled that anyone took his prayer out of that wall, more appalled that it was made public, and incredibly appalled that some a faith-based site is “fisking” the prayer while a few bloggers (and forum commenters) are daring to mock it or to judge its content as being insufficient because it does not mention his country, or Israel.

To which I have to reply – to anyone enjoying or exploiting the theft of this prayer, or judging it: “screw that. You don’t get to decide on or judge another’s prayer.”

If that seems uncharacteristically harsh, well…I never said I was a saint. In fact, it is precisely because I am no saint that I am so offended by the idea of anyone glomming on to someone else’s prayer – particularly for the very basest of reasons: to make political hay of it.

I’ve had a few emails from people niggling at the fact that he used hotel stationary (so what? – it was supposed to be private and unseen!) or that he used a yarmulke from the box provided, instead of bringing his one of his own (so what? – he went to the Wall and he did it reverently!) or that he did not capitalize the Y in “your” (SO FREAKING WHAT? What shames God more – an uncapitalized Y or the ugliness you’re allowing to feast within yourself? You hate when the Bush haters get unhinged and ugly in their hate, why are you allowing yourselves to succumb to all of the same temptations? How is that glorifying God?)

I probably shouldn’t be writing, because I’m pretty angry right now, and whenever I write angry, I end up regretting it. But you know…shanty Irish, over here…must bellow a bit.

Obama’s prayer seemed to me to be a deeply personal prayer – and one I have prayed myself, as have countless others; it is a petition for protection, forgiveness, help with personal weaknesses and for wisdom. It expressed a willingness to be an instrument of God’s will. St. Francis prayed like that. I do. Everyone I know does. And, again, can’t be said enough – the prayer was private.

And for heaven’s sake, had the prayer included a reference to the country – or Israel or the world – these same critics would probably be the first to crow that the prayer and its theft was a choreographed event meant to appeal to the religious right. Or, they’d be saying, “look, more proof that he’s a megalomaniac! He’s praying for countries and the world!”

A megalomaniac Obama may well be…but who among us has no fault, no weakness, no neuroses? And how dare anyone step on a man’s prayer?

Someone wrote to me:

Campaign posters do not belong at the Kotel

No, they don’t. But private prayers are not yours or mine to judge!

I know that sometimes our prayers are open-hearted intercessions for friends, strangers, nations, etc. But sometimes our prayers are simply about those concerns nearest our hearts; they are simply “me, me, me, mine, mine, mine, please, please, please.” So what?

None of us are perfect – none of us pray perfectly – and good heavens most of us would not like the deepest parts of our prayer put out there for public judgment and mockery. I know I wouldn’t. My prayers, unless I’m clearly sharing them with others, are between me and God, and they’re no one else’s damn business.

There is no man so good that if he placed all his actions and thoughts under the scrutiny of the laws, he would not deserve hanging ten times in his life. – Michel Monataigne

If you’re a human person trying to live in the world with other human persons, you have to remember their humanity, and you have to maintain a little bit of your own. You have to have some appreciation for boundaries, too.

As Reason writes: this is a foulball, badly played. I’m glad now, that President Bush did not go to the Western Wall and leave a prayer, because undoubtedly something similar to this would have played out, because more and more people – on both sides – seem to have no sense of boundaries, and society itself seems to have lost its understanding of basic decency.

God, help us.

Donald Sensing is also writing on this.

Ed Morrissey links, Thanks Ed.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Terrye

    This kind of thing needs to stop.

    [agree with you, Terrye. As I said to an emailer, feeding these unworthy thoughts puts us on the exact same level as the rabid Bush haters who - had this happened to him - would have said EXACTLY the same things these critics are saying. Which should be a good barometer of where we do not want to go. Sometimes, the best thing to do, and the sanest thing to do, is take a man at his word.

    And if the right harps on this they will corrupt themselves in the same way the Bush haters corrupted themselves with hate. And that is ruining the country. - admin]

  • vanderleun

    It’s bad to steal it, bad to publish it, and equally bad to “pass it along.” A number of bloggers, many of whom I respect, don’t seem to be able to understand this.

    I also agree that the level of criticism and picky granulation is beneath, or should be beneath, people no matter what their political opinions.

  • rcareaga

    And very graciously played at your end of the court. This shanty Irish/Mexican half-caste respectfully applauds.

    [I do hope that HAD something like this happened to Bush, someone on the left might have cried foul. Can't think of anyone offhand, though! :::wink:::- admin]

  • sally rogers

    I couldn’t agree with you more. The idea of reading and criticizing anyone’s private prayer seems almost akin to sneaking into a married couple’s bedroom and critiquing their bedroom behavior. How anyone could do such a thing is beyond me.

    I have to admit I read the prayer before I realized that it was not something that had been made public on purpose by Mr. Obama. I do think it was a very beautiful and very human prayer.

    When I was in Jerusalem on a pilgrimage , I wrote a prayer and left it in the Wall and I felt quite privileged that they let non-Jews do so. This is a place where jesus went to worship His Father. The idea is that prayers left in teh wall go directly to God. It’s a very humbling place to be, and I can’t imagine anyone using such an ocassion to leave a set of policy proposals. That would be extremely odd, and I think most prayers are probably quite similar to the one by Mr. Obama. (By the way, all men have to wear yarmulkes at the Wall, and they have a box full of them there for those who lack one. I don’t believe you are allowed to approach the prayer wall without one, so you can’t criticize Obama for wearing one).

    I don’t like Obama’s policies, and I won’t be voting for him, but the idea that anyone is making hay out of this prayer is sickening. Have a little sense of decency, folks. And God bless us all.

  • semicolon

    Amen, amen, and amen. I especially agree with the idea that more and more of us seem to have no sense of boundaries and basic decency. What reason or justification does the student who stole the prayer paper give for his act? Has anyone asked?

  • Myssi

    Dear Father in Heaven, as the Psalmist prayed, so I pray here publicly, renew a proper spirit within your people. Create in us – and in the person who stole Senator Obama’s prayer – clean hearts that you can use to pour your much needed love out on the world you sent Jesus, your Only Son, the True Messiah, to save. Help us to forgive this person for his sin of theft and those who have exploited that sin, for their judgementalism and selfishness. Show us YOUR way, Father, because only your way leads to heaven. This world is not my home, prepare me for the home you have prepared for me. Teach us, those who trust in You for salvation and freedom, to love those who don’t love us in return because you loved us when we did not, could not, love you.
    God, bless us every one by turning our hearts and minds toward you and away from our preoccupation with the temporary. Let us not lose sight of the eternal in the midst of the now.
    I have no idea who would stoop to stealing a prayer, from the Wailing Wall or anywhere else. It is unconscionable. In the name of Jesus and with the help of your Holy Spirit, give us the grace to forgive and give it to Senator Obama as well.
    Bless our country, Lord, because we need it and our world because we and all of its people need you. Amen

  • Regina

    I’m no Obama fan, and I won’t be voting for him. that said, publishing his prayer, and holding it up for ridicule, is just beyond the Pale. I couldn’t read it – it feels like reading someone’s personal mail.
    You’re so right on this one (but then you’re right on so much).

  • Sadie

    Of course the only way we know he went to the wailing wall and left a prayer is because it was broadcast and reported worldwide. Given the nature of Obama’s campaign, premised as it is in cinematic grandiosity, it seems quite possible (to me anyway) that reporting of the prayer’s contents would have to have been anticipated by the campaign and probably welcome. It’s easy to see why persons who might otherwise be predisposed to observe a certain amount of propriety when it comes to this sort of thing don’t feel constrained to do so in this particular instance.

  • fporretto

    Dear lady:

    “If that seems uncharacteristically harsh, well…I never said I was a saint.”

    Which is for the best, but I believe you are misinformed about the value of harshness and anger. God gave us these powers because at the right times and in the proper contexts, they’re constructive forces, instrumental to the improvement of our condition. Harshness and anger can be misused, of course, but I’d say that’s not the case here.

    We are not permitted to judge persons, but we are permitted to judge their deeds. In fact, we’re required to do so.

    Be well.

  • culperjr.

    Dear Anchoress,

    I take second place to no one in my dislike for Barack Obama, but I wholeheartedly concur with your posting. Stealing, reading, printing and criticizing his prayer is beneath contempt. Any so-called conservative who joins in this pile-on is despicable.

    At times like this, when I despair for my nation and feel almost without hope, I always turn to a great source of strength. No, not the Bible (as I should). I turn to “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”. Unlike most people who love that film, it is not Jimmy Stewart’s filibuster or the stirring efforts of the Boy Rangers that gives me hope. It is Claude Rains attempting to kill himself that strengthens me. Not that I advocate suicide, but I admire a recognition of wrongdoing. A man who will put a pistol to his head when confronted with his own wickedness is, at least, still capable of shame. He can be redeemed.

    Do you suppose there is anyone in Washington or in the media (but I repeat myself) who would feel that sense of stained honor.

    P.S.–I love your writing. You are, on the whole, the most sensible, balanced and literate blogger I have the pleasure to read. Thanks.

  • ViolaJ.

    Anchoress, you addressed this issue very candidly and clearly. Angry or not, it needed to be said! Stealing prayers is like stealing someone’s soul. It is simply wrong.

    Another thing that I would like to say today is that one thing I have always appreciated about your writing is that you have the ability to address issues strongly without getting foul mouthed and low class in your writing style. I see intelligent people write on their blogs as if they just left High School yesterday and the only language they feel they can convey their there thoughts is through f..this and f…that, etc….It is really sad.
    Thank you, dear Anchoress, for keeping integrity, sympathy, and kindness in the center of your writings! I appreciate you.

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  • Mutnodjmet

    I am assuming that the bloggers who published this do not support Obama as President. Frankly, reading the news of Obama’s tour (especially the cancellation of a planned visit to American soldiers recovering in a military hospital in Germany, I got the impression that between the gaffes, the over-exposure, and the ineptitude of the press that the expedition hurt Obama more than helped. I think the best summary of it all is the wonderful satirical piece by Gerard Baker, “Obama; The Anointed One”.

    Now, because they have lost both their good taste and good sense, these bloggers are undoing all of this “backlash”, because it is just this sort of thing that makes Obama seem sympathetic.

    [edited to admit link - admin]

  • Dante Explorer

    I completely agree. I’m hardly an Obama fan, but the spiritual arrogance of those intervening and judging his private prayer is inexcusable.

  • lsheldon

    I like Sensing’s take on the issue.

    And the sanctimonious bloggers that are publishing it are no better than the original thief (maybe not as good).

    I just hope it was not one “our side” [spit] that stole it. But I have a bad feeling about that.

  • Zorro

    Another excellent post. I’m not a fan of Obama either, the prayer should be regarded as his private, personal conversation with God the Almighty. It’s no one else’s business and should have never been published.

    By the way, Ed at Hot Air has linked to this post.

    [Thanks for telling me, Zorro, I didn't know - I'll go thank him - admin]

  • irascibleChef

    Out of bounds!


  • MaxedOutMama

    Ah, I think you are right to be angry about this and I don’t think you are wrong for writing when angry, because at what time would you stop being angry about this? Certainly it shouldn’t have been taken and published, but that is just one bad deed by one bad person. To be criticizing him for his prayer just adds to the badness, and to boot it seems almost incomprehensibly arrogant and almost insane. I agree that politics can be crazy, but that’s no reason to let politics make US crazy.

    Anyway, those who are drawing attention to the prayer will get their comeuppance. There is nothing in that prayer that wouldn’t make a person not blinded by his or her own malice feel quite sympathetic to Obama.

    A candidate’s public speeches or policy proposals are fiskable. Private matters such as this are not. What next?

  • Hantchu

    Lucky me. I missed the story about the “stolen prayer” even though I live a few miles from the Western Wall. Kind of reminds me of the Woody Allen line about being expelled for cheating on a Philosophy exam,”I looked into the soul of the kid sitting next to me”.
    Sincere prayer cannot be stolen, but it was incredibly tacky of anyone to try. By the way, my understanding of the “note in the Kotel” tradition is that pilgrims would be given such notes by OTHERS for them to place in the Wall. If you’re at the holy place yourself, you hardly need to send a note. On the other hand, anything that gets people to pray, perhaps even to begin to acknowledge that there is a Listener, is a good thing.

  • Cycle Cyril

    It very well is a consequence of the cynic in me, but in the light of Obama’s decision not to visit wounded soldiers in Germany which reveals his focus on obtaining the maximum in media attention solely for his own advancement, I suspect strongly that Obama’s prayer, which should have been kept private, was expected to be made public. Caroline Glick, who usually writes an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post had an interview in the National Review:

    This was supposed to be a private benediction, and it was extraordinarily improper for someone to take this prayer and sell it to the media. On the other hand, in the world of paparazzi, the exposure of the prayer was predictable, and Obama apparently constructed the prayer for public consumption. Like everything else about his visit, this was a carefully crafted statement, designed not to ruffle very many feathers. And like this prayer, there was nothing extraordinary about Obama’s visit. As you would expect from a politician, he tried to be all things to all people. And he probably succeeded.

  • kuvasz

    Dear Miss A,

    I agree. I thought it was a pretty nice prayer myself; and, I was prepared to see something self-serving. This one time, Obama did pretty good and his detractors are showing their prejudices.


  • Jeanette


    I, too, was outraged that someone would have dug into the crack between the rocks and taken out Obama’s prayer to publish it for all to see.

    Unless praying publicly, prayer is private between us and God.

    My husband was nominated to be a deacon in our Baptist church, but turned it down because he doesn’t like to pray publicly and would have to do the offertory prayer occasionally.

    He considers his prayers to be private, and when we pray together he prays beautifully. He forgets no one and is sure to praise God for answered prayers and blessings received. He prays for Israel and our country along with the poor of the world. He prays for our pastors and the youth program at our church.

    It’s not that he can’t pray, but that he prefers to go to his “closet” to pray.

    Thank you for this post.

  • Juliana

    In agreement here, the prayer is private. Bad form.

  • waltj

    “By the way, all men have to wear yarmulkes at the Wall, and they have a box full of them there for those who lack one. I don’t believe you are allowed to approach the prayer wall without one, so you can’t criticize Obama for wearing one).”

    Exactly right. Let’s cut Obama some slack on this one. I’ve prayed at the Wall a couple of times, and each time, I (a Catholic) had to don a yarmulke from the box. You also have to wear a yarmulke in places at Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem). I’ve also had to take my shoes off whenever I’ve visited a mosque or a Buddhist wat (temple). No problem, I’m visiting their “house” as it were, I should follow their rules.

    I loathe Obama’a political views and do not like him as a candidate, but what he wrote on his prayer slip should be between him and God. Even if he expected that it would become public, it should not have been published. The people who did so are being censured, and rightly so in my view. Some things should be beyond public view, and this is one of them. It’s akin to a priest violating the privacy of the confessional.

  • TheAnchoress

    Nobody was criticizing Obama for wearing a yarmulke at the wall – it is indeed required, and that is why the little cardboard ones are there, in the box, for any man who does not have one. What some were criticizing was that Obama USED a “box yarmulke” instead of having one of his own, as John McCain did. Like I said – a lot of picayune criticism.

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  • bethtopaz

    I don’t know if Obama “leaked” his prayer or not, but he is using it in his new campaign ad.

    Go to this link to Israel Insider. Halfway down the article you’ll find the new Obama campaign ad, complete with photos of Obama in church, Obama at the wailing wall, the text of his prayer flashing on the screen and beautifully accompanied by “Amazing Grace.” There’s also a request for a donation at the end – “Help Elect Obama!”

    [Beth, I'm not sure this is a real ad. It looks pretty amateurish to me. Then again, politics is becoming so cynical, who knows anymore...I don't think the Obama campaign would put something this bizarre out - it could almost be seen as ironic - admin]