Seventy years ago, the chaplain of the U.S. Senate was a man named Peter Marshall. He opened Monday, June 23, 1947, with a prayer that read:
We thank Thee, O Lord, that this land is still governed by the people’s representatives. Let democratic processes be seen at their best in this time of testing.
As these chosen men discharge their duties, guide them, O God, in the decisions they must make today. Give them the grace of humility, and shed now Thy guiding light into every mind. Break down every will that is stubbornly set against Thine or that has ignored Thee.
May what is done be so clearly right that it needs no incendiary justification. Soothe our still-smoldering hearts and minds with the spirit of forgiveness. Let us be swayed not by emotion or ambition but by calm conviction. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen. (The Prayers of Peter Marshall, page 122)
I discovered this prayer last Friday, June 23, 2017 — exactly 70 years after it was first given. It struck me as a very urgent, passionate prayer, which must have been pled in a trying time prior to some burdensome duty in Congress.
In fact, looking back at the events which transpired during that week in 1947, they bear an uncanny resemblance to those of our own time. Just take a look at what was in the news in the days leading up to that Monday morning:
- June 19, 1947 (Thursday): Pan American World Airways Flight 121 crashed in Syria due to engine failure during a flight from Karachi to Istanbul. Fourteen of the 36 on board were killed. One of the survivors was Third Officer Gene Roddenberry. Yes, this was the same Gene Roddenberry who created the original Star Trek! He flew 89 combat missions in the Army Air Forces during World War II. In 1945, he became a commercial pilot for Pan Am. After the plane he was flying, the Clipper Eclipse, crashed in the Syrian desert, Roddenberry heroically helped injured passengers out of the burning plane. (Now we can imagine where Roddenberry got inspiration for his screenwriting!)
- June 20, 1947 (Friday): The U.S. House of Representatives overrode President Truman’s veto of the Taft-Hartley Labor Bill by a vote of 331-83. This was The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, better known as the Taft-Hartley Act. It is a federal law that restricts the activities and power of labor unions. It prohibited several types of union strikes.Emotions and influence pressures must have been extremely high surrounding that vote.
- June 21, 1947 (Saturday): President Truman held a press conference in Washington and accused the Russian Army of helping the Communist minority in Hungary to force changes in the Hungarian government. Europe was in the middle of post-war recovery problems and the threat of Communist takeover was very real. The Truman Doctrine was designed to contain Communism, and Hungary was vulnerable.
- June 22, 1947 (Sunday): Senate opponents of the Taft-Hartley Bill ended a 28-hour filibuster and agreed to allow a vote the following day.
And then, the day of that Morning Prayer:
- June 23, 1947 (Monday): The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 went into effect in the United States when the Senate overrode President Truman’s veto by a vote of 68-25.
My, how the stage was set! Marshall was praying moments before the vote in the Senate to override President Truman’s veto. This all came after an emotional and exhausting weekend of tragedy, filibuster endurance, and espionage.
The three top items in the backdrop to the “trying times” of that day were disaster and death in the Syrian desert, intense partisan bickering over important legislation, and the President’s deep concern with the Communist Russians meddling in the affairs of a foreign government.
Seventy years ago sounds eerily similar to the headlines and issues of today.
Perhaps this should give us pause to stop and reflect. Today’s issues are certainly intense, and it can sometimes feel as if the crises of the present are worse than they ever have been. But are they really?
Perhaps Americans ought to take heart and repeat the encouragement and pleas from Marshall’s prayer: “Let democratic processes be seen at their best in this time of testing.”
May our Members of Congress find grace and humility and be enlightened in their minds.
May they also break down every will that is stubbornly set against God or that has ignored God.
And may they find the spirit of forgiveness which allows them to be swayed, not by emotion or ambition, but by calm conviction.
Thank you, Chaplain Marshall, for a prayer that was timeless in its inspiration and wisdom.