Barack Obama at the Western Wall

With all our final preparations to move to the Middle East I haven’t had much time to post anything of late.  Which is unfortunate, because a lot has gone on of late that is comment-worthy.  Particularly Barack Obama’s tour of the Middle East.  I’m hoping to get the local scuttle-butt on his time in Jordan when we arrive there next week.  In the meantime, I found the TIME report that Obama’s prayer at the Western/Wailing Wall had been stolen and leaked to the press to be interesting.

Western Wall with Pilgrims and Dome of the Rock at Top

Western Wall with Pilgrims and Dome of the Rock at Top

For those who do not know the Western Wall is what remains of the Jewish temple complex that is mentioned in the Gospels.  It served as a retaining wall, and was not part of the Temple itself.  Over the centuries it has been customary for Jews to pray at the wall, often loudly mourning the loss of the Temple, hence the wall’s other appellation “The Wailing Wall.”  Pilgrims of all sorts (Jew and Gentile) stand at the wall to pray, often stuffing handwritten prayers on small pieces of paper into the cracks in the wall.

Back in the summers of ’97 and ’98 I stood and prayed and stuffed a small note in the wall along with 100s of other pilgrims.   I’m not really sure what’s up with stuffing a handwritten note to God in an ancient retaining wall, but it was a very tangible, meaningful and spiritually significant act for me in that moment.  Honestly, I don’t remember what I wrote on either occasion, but I do remember the sense of renewal that I had as I prayed in this location. I never really thought about what would happen to my note after.  It seemed like a sacred place and I guess I just assumed the note would be left alone or disposed of appropriately. (Apparently the million or so notes are usually collected 2x per year and burned on the Mount of Olives).

TIME image of Obama at Western Wall

Fast forward to 2008 and enter Barack Obama into this sacred, yet very public space.  On any given day/night the square around the Western Wall might be nearly deserted or packed with throngs of pilgrims.  On Obama’s visit I’ve got to imagine there were a ton of people there observing one of the most interesting US presidential candidates in years offer his prayers to God.  I’m sure many were curious about the contents of his prayers.  I know I would have been.  The temptation to find out was too great for one man, who retrieved Obama’s paper and leaked it to the press.   This is apparently what Obama had penned:

Lord, protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.

So what do you make of all this?  Would you have stolen Obama’s prayer, too?  What do you make of the prayer? What if someone stole your prayer – would it be publishable and/or newsworthy?

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks for explaining what happens to the prayers written on pieces of stuffed into the crevaces of the wall. They are pulled and burned on the Mount of Olives!

  2. Edgar – you bring up an interesting questions – was the prayer pre-planned or spontaneous. Maybe it was a little of both. I wonder if Obama thought that his prayer might be stolen/read by anyone else. On the point about the line you identified as your favorite I heard somebody (of a liberal slant) on talk radio the other day denouncing Obama as “bad as Bush” when it comes to religion and politics. He saw the desire to be an instrument of God’s will as the ultimate statement of pride by a would-be-president. I, however, am with you in thinking that if more of us more consistently asked to be an instrument of God’s will then perhaps this world would be a little better off. Thanks for reading!

  3. Hi Brian,

    I am really hoping he didn’t plan his prayer. I hope he simply wrote it at the time he got there. On the spot. From the heart.

    The prayer is theologically powerful. Few of us will pray like that on our day to day basis. The best line:

    And make me an instrument of your will.

    When was the last time you said that in a prayer?

    I wish Obama well and I hope he changes his pro-choice views.

    As always, you are a good story teller and I enjoy your post.

    Edgar.

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