Reprinted from www.senate.gov
Mr. President and Mrs. Clinton, Speaker Hastert, Reverend Clergy, Nuncio Montalvo, Dr. Graham, General and Mrs. Ralston, other head table guests and honored guests in the hall, ladies and gentlemen: To each and every one of you I say, Blessed be they who come in the name of the Lord.
This morning, in this place, this very temporal city comes together to reach up to touch the timeless. It brings to mind the story of the man who is blessed to be able to speak with G-d, and in awe of the Lord's freedom from human constraints of time and space, he asks:
"Lord, what is a second like to you?"
And G-d answers, "A second to me is like a thousand years."
The man then asks, "And Lord, what is a penny like to you?"
"To me," the Lord declares, "a penny is a like a million dollars."
The man pauses, thinks for a minute, and then asks, "Lord, would you give me a penny?"
And G-d answers, "I will. In a second."
I am honored to have been asked to speak to you this morning, but as the story shows, I proceed with a profound sense of my own human limitations. I want to begin by talking with you about the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfasts--those still-small gatherings that have, along with their counterpart in the House, spawned this magnificent National Prayer Breakfast as well as similar meetings in every American state and so many countries around the world.
When I was first invited years ago to the Senate Prayer Breakfast, I found a lot of excuses not to go. Some were good--like my reluctance to leave my family so early on a weekday morning. But some excuses were not-so-good--like my apprehension that the Senate Prayer Breakfast was really a Christian breakfast and that, because I am Jewish, I might feel awkward or my presence might inhibit my Christian friends in their expressions of faith. I was wrong on both counts.
The regular participants in the breakfast, and our wonderful chaplain, Lloyd Ogilvie, persisted and finally convinced me to attend by employing a tactic that usually works with us politicians: they asked me to be the speaker.
That was a very important morning in my now 11 years in Washington. We began with prayer and readings from the bible and then called on the chaplain, who told us about some people in the Senate family we might want to pray for, because they were ill or had lost loved ones. Then it was my turn. I spoke about the Passover holiday and answered some very thoughtful questions. At the end, we joined hands and prayed together.
All in all, it lasted less than an hour, but I was moved that morning. More than that, I felt at home.
Today, I can tell you that the weekly Prayer Breakfasts have become the time in my hectic life in the Senate when I feel most at home, most tied to a community. Because we are at those breakfasts not as Senators; not as Republicans or Democrats, or liberals or conservatives; not even particularly as Christians or Jews. We are there as men and women of faith linked by a bond that transcends all the other descriptors and dividers - our shared love of G-d and acceptance of His Sovereignty over us, and our common commitment to try to live according to the universal moral laws of the Lord.
The work that needs to be done for the people we in government serve will best be done if we work together, and we will work together best if we understand that we are blessed not only to be citizens of the same beloved country, but children of the same awesome G-d.
Praying for the Lord's guidance and strength as we begin a new Congress has been the traditional purpose of this National Prayer Breakfast. But there is another stated aspiration and that is "to reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our Nation and ourselves to God and his purposes." I want to speak with you about that second goal this morning because I believe it is critically important at this moment in our national history when our economic life is thriving, but our moral life is stagnating. Although so much is so good in our country today, there are other ways in which we desperately need to do better. There is compelling evidence, for example, that our culture has coarsened; that our standards of decency and civility have eroded; and that the traditional sources of values in our society - faith, family, and community - are in a life-and-death struggle with the darker forces of immorality, inhumanity, and greed.
From the beginning of our existence, we Americans have known where to turn in such times of moral challenge. "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people," John Adams wrote. George Washington warned us never to "indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion." That is why we pledge our allegiance to "one nation under G-d." And why faith has played such a central role in our nation's history. Great spiritual awakenings have brought strength and purpose to the American experience. In the 18th Century, the first Great Awakening put America on the road to independence, freedom, and equality. In the 19th Century, the Second Awakening gave birth to the abolitionist movement, which removed the stain of slavery from American life and made the promise of equality more real. And in the early 20th Century, a third religious awakening led to great acts of justice and charity toward the poor and the exploited, which expressed themselves ultimately in a progressive burst of social legislation.
In recent years, I believe, there have been clear signs of a new American spiritual awakening. This one began in the hearts of millions of Americans who felt threatened by the vulgarity and violence in our society, and turned to religion as the best way to rebuild a wall of principle and purpose around themselves and their families. Christians flocked to their churches, Jews to their synagogues, Muslims to their Mosques, and Buddhists and Hindus to their temples. Others chose alternate spiritual movements as their way to values, order, and peace of mind. It has been as if millions of modern men and women were hearing the ancient voice of the prophet Hosea saying, "Thou hast stumbled in thine iniquity ... Therefore, turn to thy G-d ... keep mercy and justice."
This morning, I want to ask all who are here to think about how we can strengthen and expand the current spiritual awakening so it not only inspires us individually and within our separate faith communities, but also renews and elevates the moral and cultural life of our nation?
Let me suggest that we begin by talking more to each other about our beliefs and our values, talking in the spirit of this prayer breakfast - open, generous, and mutually respectful - so that we may strengthen each other in our common quest. The Catholic theologian, Michael Novak, has written wisely:
"Americans are starved for good conversations about important matters of the human spirit. In Victorian England, religious devotion was not a forbidden topic of conversation, sex was. In America today, the inhibitions are reversed."
So let us break through those inhibitions to talk together, study together, and pray together, remembering the call in Chronicles to "give thanks to G-d, to declare His name and make His acts known among the peoples... to sing to Him and speak of all His wonders."
We who believe and observe have an additional opportunity and responsibility to reach out to those who may neither believe nor observe, to reassure them that we share with them the core values of America, that our faith is not inconsistent with their freedom, and that our values do not make us intolerant of their differences.
Discussion, study, and prayer are only the beginning, because we know that in the end we will be judged by our behavior. In the Koran, the Prophet says: "So woe to the praying ones who are unmindful of their prayer -- and refrain from acts of kindness." Isaiah summarizes the Torah in two acts: "Keep justice and do righteousness." And the Beatitudes inspire and direct us: "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled; blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see G-d. Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of G-d."
Turning faith into action is particularly appropriate in this millennial year, whose significance will be determined not by turning a page on our calendars at home or work, but by turning a page on the calendar of our hearts and deeds. To make a difference, we must take our religious beliefs and values - our sense of justice, of right and wrong--into America's cultural and communal life.
In fact, that has begun to happen. In our nation's public places, including our schools, people are finding constitutional ways to honor and express faith in G-d. In the entertainment industry, a surge of persistent public pressure - a revolt of the revolted - has prodded at least some executives to acknowledge their civic and moral responsibility to our society and our children. It's even happening in government, where we have come together in recent years under President Clinton's leadership to embrace some of our best values by enacting new laws and programs that help the poor by reforming welfare, that protect the innocent by combating crime, and that restore responsibility by balancing our budget.
In communities across America, people of faith are working to repair some of the worst effects of our damaged moral and cultural life, like teenage pregnancy, family disintegration, drug dependency, and homelessness. Charitable giving is up, more of the young are turning to community service, and because our economy is booming, or perhaps in spite of it, people are finding they need more than material wealth to achieve happiness.They want spiritual fulfillment, cultural elevation, more time with their families, and more confidence that they are making a difference for the better.
So there is reason in this millennial year to go forward from this 48th National Prayer Breakfast with hope, ready to serve God with gladness by transforming these good beginnings into America's next Great Spiritual Awakening -- one that will secure the moral future of our nation and raise up the quality of life of all our people. "Let your light shine before others," Jesus said, "so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."
If we do, then in time, as Isaiah prophesied: "Every valley will be exalted, and every mountain and hill will be made low. The crooked will become straight, and the rough places smooth. For the earth will be full of the glory of the Lord."