Last fall, I received a call from the Colorado House of Representatives asking if I would like to be a chaplain for the next legislative session. "What does that mean?" I asked the person on the other end of the line. "It means that you are responsible for delivering the prayer at the opening of every session on a particular weekday. We start in January and end in May. Do Thursdays work for you?"
I thought about it for a moment. Over the course of my 25 years in the Rabbinate, I've delivered a lot of opening prayers. Usually, when a clergyperson is asked to deliver a prayer, it's a one-shot deal. You go to the function, sit on the dais, offer your prayer and that's about it. The nice thing about delivering an opening prayer is that, because they are usually a "one shot" type of event, one can reuse phrases and concepts on occasion.
This, however, was different. To deliver a prayer every week to the State House of Representatives meant that I would have to come up with new ideas each week. But it was also an intriguing opportunity. If I spoke to the legislators once a year, they probably wouldn't remember what I said. If, however, I spoke each week, they might remember what I had to say.
But before I could say yes to this request, I had to wrestle with how I felt about the concept of offering an opening prayer for a governmental agency. After all, aren't we supposed to value the separation of Church and State in our nation? Is it really kosher to offer a prayer prior to legislative action? Might that compromise my values? One the other hand, however, I knew that there were many clergy who would relish the idea of inserting God into the House of Representatives. Perhaps my presence could be a moderating and balancing factor to the more fundamentalist preachers who would seize on the opportunity to evangelize and insert their particular brand of religion into the legislative process?
And so, I agreed to do it. I delivered my first prayer yesterday. (See below).
I have a question for you all: If you could deliver a prayer to the Colorado House of Representatives, what would you like to say? I really do want to hear from you. No guarantees that I will use your ideas, but I promise to read them all.
Rabbi Joe Black
Opening Prayer for the State House of Colorado
January 19, 2012
Rabbi Joseph R. Black – Temple Emanuel - Denver
Our God and God of all people:
We come to you this morning from many different faith traditions. As we celebrate the splendor and potential of our great State of Colorado, we acknowledge the fact that you reveal many truths – it is our task to hear and heed them.
Merciful Creator, guide these Legislators as they go about their sacred work. May any conflicts that arise in the course of deliberation be seen as a reflection of the diversity with which we have been blessed.
Holy One of Blessing – help our leaders to see the good in one other – and let that goodness triumph over partisanship.
Help them to see the faces that, all too often are unseen – the men, women and children living on the edge - for whom these deliberations may very well determine the difference between hope and despair.
May this day bring out the best in these men and women who have been elected to labor on behalf of their constituents.
Our God - we have seen You in the faces of faceless – eager to love and be loved
We have heard you in moments of wonder – when men, women and children come together in mutual longing and the promise of a better tomorrow.
On this day of deliberation, let us pray that our leaders and officials might find You within themselves.
- May they find You in their ability to hear one other – to respect one other – to do the sacred work of governing our State of Colorado.
- May they find You in satisfaction that comes from hard work and due deliberation.
- May they come to know You as they come to know each other – and respect the skills that each brings to the floor of debate.
- May their discussions give way to a higher sense of purpose and understanding – and along the way, may it elucidate and elevate the decisions that are to be made.
We thank you for these men and women who serve our great state of Colorado. Guide their deliberations with purpose and an awareness of the sacred.
And let us say,