Prayer in America
Subject: James P. Moore, Jr.
Interviewer: Alison Rostankowski
The segments included in this interview* excerpt were recorded in Fall 2006, as part of Prayer in America, a look at the history of civil liberties in America and the controversy surrounding the USA PATRIOT ACT. The documentary is a production of The Duncan Entertainment Group, Iowa Public Television is the presenter and flagship affiliate for the PBS system. James P. Moore is the author of One Nation Under God: The History of Prayer in America. He is a member of the faculty at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.
(* This transcript has been edited due to length.)
Why do you think prayer is an integral part of the national character of America?
Prayer has been a part of Americas DNA almost from its very beginning. When you think about it, when Native Americans, Europe Americans, and African Americans came together on this continent for the first time with all the differences that they showed, the one thing that they enjoyed together was prayer. They prayed in their own ways, but prayer was a common element that certainly involved them all.
Certainly there is a tremendous difference that exists between and among different groups of people and how they pray. But what has been particularly important is the fact that they do pray. One of the things that I think was rather remarkable on the part of anthropologist Margaret Mead was when she was able to show how important prayer was in the rights of individuals, that it created a moral anchor, an ability for society to come in some meaningful way, to be able to show perspective, to be able to show that there was a higher power in life. And so I think it is an important element in the life of America that prayer does remain a right. Whether it is individually or collectively.
So you're saying that this is a uniquely American phenomenon?
It isn't, but think it's important to realize that it is not obnoxious to talk about such a thing as American prayer, because Americans, more than any other developed country in the world, have shown a devotion to prayer that really has been unequaled. Prayer has become an element that has allowed them to come together at difficult times, at joyous times, and prayer really has become an integral part of who and what we are.
One person that's always interesting and comes up in your book, and others, is William James and what he said about prayer. What did he suggest about why people and what is unique about the American religious experiences?
Well, William James was one of the first individuals to put America on the couch to allow them to try to get a better understanding of who and what they are. He came to conclusion that for people who pray, that it was a very important outlet, that it was an important part of who and what they were, and that, without prayer, that for some individuals they really would not be able to realize the kind of existences that they did and that for some people prayer did not mean as much as it did for others, but that prayer was a good thing, and that prayer was an important part of many, many people's lives, and, therefore, should be respected as such.
In your book you said that Americans prayers have contributed to a number of firsts in the cultural realm. I wonder if you can explain what these firsts are?
There have been so many firsts where prayer has been involved, that is it's rather extraordinary. The first book, for example, that was ever published, ah, in, in America was essentially a book of, of prayers, of Psalms. The first, talking picture was the Jazz Singer, about a Jewish Cantor. The first successful self-help program, Alcoholics Anonymous had prayer at its heart. The first symphonies, the first poetry, the first recordings had the Lord's Prayer on it. So there are a number of instances where prayer was really a first, and it simply is because it was such an important part of people's lives.
What is the genesis of prayer?
People have been praying, really, since the age of reasoning when men and women looked around themselves and said, you know, I wasn't responsible for this, who did this. It was that mystery, that curiosity, that led them to reach out through prayer. So that I think it can be argued pretty persuasively that prayer has far predated organized religion and churches and faiths, and prayer has really been with us since the beginning of time when men and women were able to communicate with one another.
Can you talk a little bit about, the Native American religious experience?
I must tell you, I really absorbed myself in the Native American culture because I just was so unfamiliar with it. And, over many years I took the time to be able to understand their relationship with the spiritual world. And, as much as some would like to dismiss Native American religions from way back when, I think it's important to realize that Native Americans didn't even have the word religion in their vocabularies. Every single Nation, every tribe, did not have the word religion. It simply was because there were no tenants of faith, but spirituality was everything to them. For example, when an American Indian would erect a teepee he would make sure that the flap opening the teepee would face the east, so that when he woke up in the morning with his family, the first thing they would be doing would be to face the sun and to pray. Praying was everything, whether it was hunting, whether it was eating, whether it was celebrating, whether it was even breathing, prayer was really integrated throughout their lives, and I think it was an important component that led, for many Europe Americans who first experienced and tried to understand the culture of Native Americans, to really have a healthy respect for the fact that prayer was such an important part of their culture.
You suggest in your book that prayer has been present throughout American history. What would you say to somebody who says, nobody can prove that and why does it matter?
It is amazing to me that I was able to conclude, never having come up with preconceptions of what I would come to, that, if it were not for prayer the political, religious, social, cultural, and even economic, and military history of the United States would be far different than what it is today. And, given the fact that America has had an extraordinary influence on the rest of the world over the past century at least, that world history would be very different than what it is today, if it had not been for American prayer.
Let's break down that argument. That's a bold argument to make. First tell me, how would America be different socially if it wasn't for prayer?
Well, for example, back in September of 1774, our founding fathers came together for the first time in Philadelphia, they were very concerned about the British and had just learned from Boston, that there were homes that were being fired upon, mainly on the homes of Patriots. And so there was a genuine concern about how to bond very quickly, we've got to remember that these men had really never set eyes on one another, let alone worked together. Certainly some of them had worked together in their individual delegations, but they had to find a way to be able to bond quickly, they had to be able to figure out how to take on such an intimidating foe as Great Britain, and so it was Samuel Adams who stood up and said, there is only one answer that I can come up with that we need to be able to turn to be able to deal with all of this, and that is prayer. And so with very little debate, that took place every single day over many years. During the Continental Convention prayer was said, and it was a way to be able to bring people together in a very, very important way. And so one can argue how different, perhaps, those sessions would have been if it had not been for prayer.
And what about the political realm?
Well, for example, approximately 50 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. found that prayer became an absolutely critical element in his life. He had a seminal moment back in New Year's 1956, in which he and his wife and new two month old child had just gone to bed, and was around two or three o'clock in the morning when a white racist called on the telephone and told him that if he didn't get out of town by morning that his wife and his child would be killed. And so Martin Luther King, Jr. hung up the telephone very quietly so as not to wake up his wife and child, and went into the kitchen, poured himself a cup of coffee and very quietly began to pray, saying, Lord, it was one thing when I was a single man, it's quite another when I have a wife and a child and responsibilities, I am asking you to please pass this torch in heading up the Civil Rights Movement to someone else, and, as you're doing so, please make sure I don't look like a coward. And so he began to continue to pray, and in the midst of his prayer he realized that it was important for him to actually lead the Civil Rights Movement, that he had no other choice, that he needed to be able to proceed. And, as a consequence, he decided, in what he would later call his kitchen conversion, to proceed with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and became stronger and more effective than ever. And so we can ask ourselves if it had not been for prayer at that particularly moment in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., how different his history might have been and, indeed, how different our own history might have been.
And how has prayer changed America economically?
I found a number of instances where some of the great American Titians from the 19th Century and the 20th Century found that prayer became an extremely important gage in allowing them to be able to sit back and to try to understand the prospective of what they were doing and how best to approach various ventures in their own personal lives. For example, there was a moment, a very difficult moment in the life of J.C. Penny. I had the chance to be able to interview his last surviving daughter, and he had written himself about the fact that he was within minutes of committing suicide when, all of a sudden, he heard a choir in a sanitarium up in Battle Creek, Michigan in which he heard a hymn with the words, "don't worry, God will take care of it," sounding through the air. And he began to think to himself, well maybe, just maybe this is something that I ought to step back and think about. And as a consequence, he didn't commit suicide, of course, and J.C. Penny's became the retailer that it is today.
I think, for example, of Howard Schultz, who is, the heart and soul of Starbucks, who really believes that at various times throughout his life, when he was really trying to bring Starbucks into the kind of existence that we know it today, that he needed the chance to be able to sit back and pray. And he promised, through his prayers, that if indeed his dreams became true, that he would do what he could for the good of others and that this was not simply going to be a selfish endeavor.p>I think of Sir John Templeton who was the inventor of mutual funds back in the 1930's, who is still with us. One of the things I think is just fascinating is how he would make sure that when his boards would meet that, before they began to talk about any business whatsoever, they would say a prayer, because he believed that, if his board would pray, take the time to be able to put things in proper perspective, that with the fiduciary responsible that members of the board had that decisions made in regards to the future of the Templeton fund and other funds that he was involved with would be taken care of in a far more efficacious way, and people would understand the role that they had in the role of the company.
How does prayer influence popular culture?
The most surprising discovery that I made along the way was simply the prayer of Tupac Shakur. Tupac Shakur who some, ah, believe, is the godfather of rap, and someone who's lyrics I always detested and found to be, removed from my own realm. He was a young man who really was born into a truly dysfunctional family. His mother had served some time in jail and his father was serving time in a federal penitentiary. So he literally grew up on the streets. And he wrote a prayer called God, and it's a wonderful prayer in which he talks about how scared he was, about how he had to deal with the loneliness of the existence that he had been dealt with. But that he always knew that he could turn to God whenever he needed support, help, guidance and uplift. And so he writes this beautiful, beautiful piece called God, and ends it by simply saying, and so when I am asked, who do I think of when it comes to unconditional love, I realize that there's one name above all others, and it's you God. Well, there's nothing that's more beautiful than the sentiment of someone like a Tupac Shakur, we can argue about the kind of life that he led, but we certainly can't argue with the devotion that certainly was contained in the lyrics of a poem like that.
Let me read you something that you said in the book, and then I'll ask you a question. "Prayer has been one of the most critical and indisputable influences on the course of American history and on the lives of individual Americans. Quite literally, the social, religious, cultural, political, and even military aspects of the country would have been different from the way they are today without prayer." But what would you say to somebody who said, is that prayer or is that just religiosity?
I think it's more than religiosity simply because so many individuals have come together of different religions who have believed that the spirituality of prayer has been able to support them in particular needs. For example, when our founding fathers came together the great concern was, well, look, we're people of different faiths, of different religions. Even the Presbyterians back in the 18th Century were divided between the new lights and the old lights, those who were more evangelical than others. But they realized that the one thing that could bring them together was prayer. It was really a common thread that allowed them to be able spiritually, as a group to come together. When you think about it, that's how we were able to come together in the aftermath of September the 11th at Yankee Stadium or at the Washington Cathedral. Prayer was the common force despite all the diversity that existed. That brought us together as a family.
And developing that point, you, argue that America today must understand prayer as a unique unifying force. And I wonder if you can explain that, because we often think of this as being a country that's really divided by a lot of political, religious, cultural, social ideas, and here you are saying that prayer is unifying.
There certainly have been times in which prayer has been misused. It's been misused when the Ku Klux Klan, for example, would come together to pray before they went off on a lynching. We all know, of course, of how the terrorists prayed before they jumped on those planes that ultimately created the tragedy of September the 11th. But the fact remains that when we are down, and even when we are up, that the ability to come together and to be able to find something that brings us together, namely prayer, is a very comforting factor in the life of America. It's something that we have turned to over, and over, and over again. You can't say that, for example, about countries in Europe, you can't even say that about our neighbors to the north, Canada, but America has a unique ability to be able to spiritually bond together, particularly during times of crisis as we saw after September the 11th.
Please describe what actually occurred at the Yankee Stadium event.
Well, there was a genuine need to find ways to be able to express the sorrow, the remorse, and the sense of tragedy that existed after September the 11th. The footage of people jumping out of buildings, the flames, the, I mean there, there's just so much that was involved in September 11th, it became truly one of the great seminal events, not only in American history but in world history. And so there was a need to be able to find a way to bring people together. One of the natural ways to bring people together was to be able to have a prayer service at the Washington Cathedral, in which not only did the President of the United States speak, but also an ailing Billy Graham was able to be with us. Yankee Stadium provided a different opportunity. Oprah Winfrey and James Earl Jones became the co-chairs, the co-hosts, for this extraordinary gathering of individuals. And so you saw people there, as you did at the Washington Cathedral, of every faith possible, dressed in the habits of their various religions, but the one thing that they shared in common was the desire to pray, to pray for the victims, to pray for the individuals who were victims as a result of people who had died, families, friends, and others, and even in a way to pray for the terrorists themselves, who clearly were misguided in what they were intending to see as some religious fervor, some religious tenant that led them create the acts that that they did.
You mention in the book that prayer became the one outlet that did not necessarily provide answers but allowed questions to be placed in a larger context. Can you explain that?
I think it was important to be able to pray to call out to God, and to simply ask the question why? I think prayer does not necessarily answer questions, it simply allows us the chance to be able to call out and to ask why. I love the answer that Marion Anderson, the great Contralto, and Civil Rights symbol from the 1930's once said, and that is that prayer begins when human endurance ends. And so I think that prayer ultimately becomes a guiding force for people when they don't know where to turn, when they don't know where their lives are ultimately going to lead, prayer gives them the opportunity to be able to turn to a higher power, to God, to be able to find some of those answers and to seek some kind of guidance that will give meaning to their lives and give meaning to the direction that their lives are taking.
Are we talking about thousands of people praying to the same God?
There's always a question as to who is praying and to whom. One of the things that I found fascinating was that when the Camp David Accords were in the process of being negotiated, before President Jimmy Carter, Prime Minster Menachem Begin of Israel, and Egypt's President Anwar Sadat came together to Camp David to essentially come up with what, certainly by all measures, was an historic accord. But the first thing they negotiated was a prayer, and so there was this incredible traffic that went across the Atlantic between Washington and Cairo and Tel Aviv, trying to figure out what kind of a prayer to write. Well, at the time Menachem Begin was absolutely convinced that the God he prayed to was a very different God than the God that Sadat prayed to. But Jimmy Carter tried to convince them, and did so in a compelling way, that they should understand that the God that they're praying to is a higher power, he's a spiritual being, someone to whom we all must ultimately turn. And so, we are in that case of three Abrahamic traditions, we should at least try to convince ourselves that, no matter how we are praying, that we are praying to God in, in our own way, and that that is an important element. And so, finally Menachem Begin agreed, they negotiated the text of the prayer, and the prayer was read before they began one bit of discussion of the negotiations of the Camp David Accords.
Wasn't there some of that same tension, to a certain extent, at the Yankee Stadium event, these different religious groups, maybe a Catholic there saying, well, I'm praying to God through a saint, Muslims praying differently, Quakers another way etc? Or, think about the problem with Lutheran minister Benke.
If we cannot pray as a human family, then it is a very sad commentary no matter how we find each one of us defining whom it is we're praying to. You're mentioning minister Benke, he had a very tough road after that because there were those who believed that he should not be praying with others who did not believe in the same God in the same way that his own Synod of the Lutheran Church believed. It's interesting because another Synod of the church has a belief that when prayer is said that, literally, it should be whispered, For example, if a minister goes to a hospital to help a patient who is a member of his congregation, when they pray, they whisper to one another so that nobody else will hear their prayers, because they believe that that prayer is so very special that is really contained within the religion. That's something that I think that we have always had to deal with in some way, and it's something that we'll continue to deal with. But it doesn't take away from the fact that, for most of us, prayer does become a unifying force, that's what's important to realize. For most people who genuinely have a desire to be able to reach out to God that they do believe that as a human family we can come together, we can pray, even in the midst of different religions, of different faiths, of different churches.
You mentioned earlier that that's distinct as opposed to Europe or some of these other places, so I think you're getting at this kind of uniquely American way. What is it about the American experience, say, versus a Europe experience that makes this idea so distinct?
I think for a couple of reasons. As I was mentioning earlier, the notion that when Europe Americans, Native Americans, and African Americans came together, they shared one common identity and that was prayer. I think that really became the root by which so much was able to develop. But we also have to remember that an awful lot of the people who came to America for religious reasons were really religious entrepreneurs. The one thing America has never had that Europe has had is a state religion. As we know the, the Lutheran Church is the official church of Sweden, the Anglican Church is the official church of Great Britain, the Roman Catholic Church, the official Church of Italy. The United States decided very early on with the founding fathers, and wisely so, that it was not in our best interest to have some kind of a state church. And so you've had this competition of spiritual ideas, that have come together at times, have separated at times. And so I think that our unique history in regards to the way we identify ourselves religiously, has come a very long way, and has truly separated us from our European brothers and sisters.
So, we just talked about a very contemporary example of national crisis. Can you talk about some other times where, in American history where Americans have come together in very public prayer?
One of the most compelling stories that I came across was during World War II. For many months it had been rumored that the United States was going to lead an effort among the allies to begin the final push towards Berlin. But nobody knew when nor where this was going to take place. And so there is a story that is told by the former President and CEO of General Electric, who talks about how he was on his way to Union Station, his name was Charles Wilson, and he was going to pick up a friend. Union Station Washington in those days was a very busy, bustling place, 100,000 people would go through those doors every single day. And as he began to approach Union Station, he began to hear that indeed D-Day was taking place, and that our boys were, in fact, on the shores of Normandy, and that the casualties were very, very high. There were no newsboys that were shouting out the news because it was so new. And the whispering began to take place in which people were learning for the first time of what was happening was rather extraordinary. So he walked in the doors of Union Station only to find that there was a woman sitting on a wooden bench, her hair back and, and pulled back in a bun, who got up and got on her knees and began to pray. And there was a man who had been sitting next to her in a three-piece suit, and he got on his knees and he began to pray. And throughout Union Station people began to get on their knees, and there was a silence like Union Station probably has never heard either before or since, in which people were praying. It was about two or three minutes long, and then people got up and went about their business. And Charles Wilson would later reminisce at how, for a moment, Union Station had become a Cathedral, but it was a moment, once again, where people were able to come together and pray, in their own way, knowing what was happening in Europe, knowing that our boys were in harms way, and I think it is an extraordinarily compelling story of how prayer has been an important component at critical moments in our nation's history.
At the same time, prayer's also been used to sow dissent. What examples would you give to illustrate this?
Well, the Ku Klux Klan would come together and they would pray believing that somehow a prayer was giving blessing to the acts that they were about to take on. I remember reading, and certainly in the latter weeks of his life he would have regretted terribly what he had done, the example of Malcolm X. Malcolm X, when he was very much tied to the Nation of Islam, had been very upset over treatment of members of the Nation of Islam by the police in Los Angeles. In fact, one of two men died as a result. And so it was just a few weeks later that a plane was taking off from Orly Airport in Paris bound for Atlanta, with white passengers, mostly Americans and when the plane took off it crashed just outside of Orly. Well, Malcolm X came out and made it abundantly clear that God had heard his prayers, that, indeed, this was retribution for what had happened in Los Angeles. And how miscast, how misguided, someone could have been to have ever stood up in front of cameras and to have said that his prayers had been answered in such a nefarious way is rather extraordinary. And, later, Malcolm X would come to realize that no matter what color your skin happens to be, we are all one. That is I think an example of how prayer can be used in a nefarious way.
Would you talk to 9/11, that is you've got two different groups of people praying to God for two very different outcomes.
I think that is one of those great eternal questions. I think that the terrorists who clearly prayed that they would be successful in what they accomplished on September the 11th were misguided in every way. And there certainly have been Muslim scholars who have done everything that they can to be able to explain that Islam is not a religion of hate, it is not a religion that would in any way try to initiate this sort of an act. Why and how people become consumed that this is a way to a better place, to heaven, as some would argue within some of the fundamentalist Islamic thinking is very difficult to understand. But I don't think any of us can sit back and try to somehow justify why one can pray that way as opposed to someone with a good heart, a good mind, and a good soul, will pray to God for good things, not only for him or herself but for others as well.
One of the really prominent themes in American history has been this notion of being God's chosen people. How have Americans expressed that idea throughout American history?
Well there has always been this notion from the days of the Puritans that Americans truly were chosen in a grand new experiment to come to America into a relative wilderness, not withstanding the Native Americans who existed at the time. There was a belief that somehow God was giving man a second chance, that the ability to exist and to be able to exercise the freedom of religion in ways that Puritans were unable to do so in Europe was really an opportunity that gave them this notion of being a part of God's chosen people. And so that's really where it came from and John Winthrop had a wonderful line talking about America being that great city on the hill, a wonderful description used by John Kennedy, used by Ronald Reagan in, in many ways. I don't think that we see ourselves, necessarily these days as God's chosen people in the traditional way that the Puritans did, but I do believe that Americans believe that they have a responsibility to be able to do things not only for themselves, for our country, but for others that manifest itself in many ways. And so that they become God's people in a very different way perhaps than what the Puritans had originally intended.
Talk to Winthrop's "city on a hill" a little bit more. What is his argument?
Well his argument was the notion that he was off to a brand new wilderness, that the city on the hill was going to be a beacon for others to emulate, and to try to realize the true path to spirituality. If you read John Winthrop's diaries, you will read some of the most extraordinary prayers I think anyone in early America has ever written, in which he describes this city on the hill, how this long voyage across the Atlantic ocean is providing him essentially the opportunity with so many others, much the way that Moses led the Israelites to the promised land. And so America became really a place to begin anew and John Winthrop realized it and wanted to make sure that, to the extent that he was leading those colonists in those early days, that he did everything in his power to make it so.
What's the significance of that idea moving forward? Why has that one idea been adopted and had such a lasting impact on the American psyche?
Because I think it conjures up such a wonderful image. I think America wants to think of its goodness, wants to think of what it means to the rest of the world. Today we remain the only superpower in the world. We are faced with certainly a slew of problems, but, when we talk about a city on the hill, there is a desire to be able to show that Americans want to do good. We may at times find that we are guilty of the cost of good intentions, but the fact is, they good intentions. I think there is a desire now and there will be a hundred years from now, to continue to see America as a city on the hill that will allow others to understand that this is a melting pot of different cultures, different faiths, different kinds of people who have come together to try to make America what it has become and what it will be.
You mentioned Kennedy, you mentioned Reagan. Can you talk to both of them, as it relates to this idea?
When John Kennedy used the term city on a hill, he was simply trying to give America courage, give America a sense of hope, a sense of their future. He, of course was one of the great rhetoricians of any of our Presidents. So President Kennedy used it as a way to express a City on a hill. President Kennedy used those five words to be able to express a very powerful meaning of what America meant to him as the Commander in Chief. Ronald Reagan probably spoke more about prayer on a national level than any other President of the United States. For President Reagan to use the same words that John Kennedy had used, that John Winthrop had used, was a very, very natural progression, particularly when someone like President Reagan was trying to give America a new sense of itself, trying to give America, the notion of the hopefulness of what the future held for the country and for the people.
Please give examples of how everyday American folks have also prayfully demonstrated this idea of being God's chosen people?
Well you know that's very interesting. So often there is a preoccupation to talk about how the current President of the United States is so very spiritual. And yet I look back and I think about someone like Woodrow Wilson. Woodrow Wilson was the son of a Presbyterian Minister. He was, of course, the President of Princeton, became the Governor of New Jersey, and then became President of the United States. He literally believed that God had chosen him to become President of the United States. And there was a rather extraordinary study, a psychological study, that was put together, 150 pages long, that talked about Woodrow Wilson and what made him tick. It talked about the fact of how, if it had not been for prayer, that Woodrow Wilson never would have become President of the United States, that he would have imploded, that psychologically he needed prayer as an outlet. And the person who put that 150-page profile together was none other than Sigmund Freud himself, who was born the same month, the same year as, as Woodrow Wilson. And so it's interesting to see how various individuals believe that, not only do they have a purpose in life but that that purpose can be found through prayer because prayer ultimately gives them the guidance or at least the opportunity, to step back from the white noise of everyday living and understand exactly what their role is in being able to put life in perspective.
Are there any other people you would think of that we wouldn't expect that are good examples of this idea?
Well, for example, I loved hearing how Martha Graham the great choreographer believed that the dances that she choreographed had prayer at its heart, every single dance had some notion of prayer. You take someone like Frank Lloyd Wright, the great architect. Frank Lloyd Wright's father and his father, and his father all had been Unitarian Ministers. Frank Lloyd Wright wasn't really what one would call a religious man, but it was rather incredible to see how he used his art, his God-given talent, namely architecture, to be able to build churches that would enhance the prayer experience. For example, these wonderful edifices in which it was almost like a mothers arms, in which people would find ways to be able to come together in prayer. In another instance he would make sure that the steeple of the church was built in such a way that it showed praying hands. And so we have people, even in the arts community, who have tried to be able to capture prayer in their own way. I love, for example, Julie Taymore, who is famous for having produced the Lion King. She was able early in her career to be able to travel through Indonesia, in particular Bali, where she was able to see how marionettes were used in various ways, and how shadows were used, and she really came to bring together an artistic way of how to approach her art. Well, she has produced, beyond the Lion King, a number of extraordinary plays in which she's been able to use shadows and marionettes, and other devices to be able to show how people pray and how the experience of prayer can be such an enhancing way of being able to promote their own lives, and give their lives some kind of meaning.
Let's switch tracks a little bit here and talk specifically about slavery. Can you explain the significance of the Exodus story to the slaves?
It was very important when those who were enslaved by white masters here in the United States had to find a way to create meaning in their lives beyond the yoke of circumstances in which they find themselves. And so prayer became really one of the most indispensable tools in that way. It was not difficult once they learned from the Old Testament and the New Testament to be able to identify with the Israelites and how God had actually taken the Israelites and shown them through Moses to the Promised Land. So the hope always was for many of the slaves that even though they might not see the promised land, much in the way Moses never saw the promised land, that, perhaps and God willing, their children would see the promised land. That alliteration of slavery and the Israelites and the course that both took were something that certainly was very compelling for African American who were enslaved.
When it comes to prayers themselves, what are the slaves praying for? Who are they praying to? What are they praying for?
The prayers of slaves really ran the gamut. Some of them are some of the most beautifully haunting prayers in the compilation of American prayer. Some prayers simply would ask over and over and over again, why me God, why me God? Others were jubilant in their praise of God. There was even such a thing as the ring shout in which people, after a service would push away the chairs and begin to dance, and would get into a frenzy, attempting in some way to be able to express their genuine belief in the hereafter, and that they would have a life that would take them away from the chains that they found themselves on American soil. I think some of the most haunting stories are of how individuals at night would return to some of the fields where they had worked during the day, and would come together very quietly and find ways to be able to whisper between and among themselves prayers that had meaning to them, allowing them, really, the hope that tomorrow, would provide a better day. And so the prayers that they would invoke were much the same prayers that so many others would invoke. I think one of the great ironies is the fact that some of the same prayers that they would pray were the prayers that their own masters were praying on Sunday mornings, and so it was an extraordinary period, certainly, in the life of America.
How important was prayer in the scheme of that entire experience? Are you saying this was integral to their whole way of life?
I think it was more than integral to the African American experience. Prayer was really this emotional, psychological, not to mention spiritual outlet. If they had not had the chance to pray, to dream, to imagine, God only knows how desperate some of these slaves would have become. Prayer gave them hope and that was an important component to their survival. Without it I'm not sure what ultimately would have happened to individuals along the way. Please describe the ring shout in more detail.
Well, when African Americans came to this continent, they came, of course, with their own traditions. Some of them were even Muslims but began to learn much more about Christianity from their white masters. One of the great legacies that anyone has ever left any of us is the spirituals of the slaves. And it was in these spirituals that really this gamut, this eclectic nature of prayer, came through in a big way. It was spirituals, for example, that led to the creation to Jazz and Rhythm and Blues and Gospel. It is an extraordinary thing that they ultimately left for us. And in their words we can, in some faint way, understand what they were experiencing at the time that they were written. Most of the spirituals, we have no idea who wrote them. Thanks to the Johnson Brothers in the late 19th and early 20th Century, we were able to compile those spirituals and to be able to have a catalog of what these people were feeling at the time. It's a wonderful, wonderful treasury.
Is there any particular prayer that jumps out at you in all of that research and, and if so, what is that prayer and why?
You know, I found that some of the most powerful prayers, bar none, are the prayers of soldiers throughout various wars. There is nothing that really focuses the mind more than for a soldier being on the battlefield, not only in terms of the ravages of war but his, and today her, own mortality. And so some of the prayers that I came across from the soldiers who, at times simply wait for, not hours but days until the battle begins, just having so much weighing on their minds, will take the time to sit back and to write, letters to their fiancés, or their wives, or there mothers and fathers, but also prayers. And, I came across several really incredible prayers.
One prayer, which has been read certainly in many pulpits, is a prayer that was found on the body of a dead Confederate soldier at Devil's Den in the aftermath of the battle of Gettysburg. And in that prayer he wrote, essentially to God, that he had asked for power but was given weakness so that he might be able to understand how much better. He went through really a series of things that he had asked of God and that he had really gotten none of it, but, by receiving none of it, he realized how truly blessed he had become, because what God had done for him, he believed, was to give him a much better understanding of what life was all about. It gave him more meaning in his life than if he had received what he had requested. It really is a beautiful reminder of what life is all about and could only really come from the eyes, the ears, and the mind of a soldier who truly is facing the mortality that only war can provide.
What were Sorrow Songs?
Sorrow Song were produced to allow for slaves to be able to communicate with one another, even when they were working in the fields, what they were experiencing. It was way for them to unify themselves in most instances without their white masters understanding exactly what they were singing about. And so that really was the genesis of how Sorrow Songs came to be.
One of the people that you mention in the books is Frederick Douglas. Can you what he observed and why he was so indignant about it?
Frederick Douglas was outraged that white masters could actually walk into church on Sundays and pray the kind of prayers that they were praying and continue to allow slavery to exist. There was a memorable moment several years later in which he had escaped to Great Britain in which he spoke to a number of audiences, particularly in London, talking about slavery. And there was one instance in particular where he talked about the prayers that would be invoked by white slave masters back in the United States and how indignant he was that they really believed what they were praying, because clearly they did not. And the audiences, which were largely white, of course, in London, just were rousing in their own way.
In his autobiography, he talks about what it was like to sit on a riverbank and watch a small vessel with a sail just float by effortlessly as possible. How sad it was to realize that here he was chained to slavery. But he did believe in prayer and not only did he believe in prayer, but he thought that it was important that you used your feet at the same time. It was a sentiment that was later echoed by Martin Luther King, Jr., that it's great to pray, but you'd better use your feet at the same time to be able to see that prayer and deeds actually coincide with one another because, without both, you really are not gonna move one step further.
Another key individual in slavery's history was Sojourner Truth. What role did prayer play in her life experiences?
I think anyone who takes the time to be able to read anything about Sojourner Truth will begin to smile almost from the outset. In the early days when she learned more and more about God as a child and later on as a teenager, and she, of course was a slave, she began to talk to God almost like he was her brother. A brother in a sense where she would dress him down, she would tell him, you're not watching after me like you should be, and she just really did not hold God in, in the kind of awe that most of us think about when we pray. It was a conversation. Prayer for her was a conversation with God. Later on in her life she would express great embarrassment that she had ever treated God the way that she had, but it was a wonderful openness, a candor that she showed in her prayers that I found to be refreshing. I think at times we need the opportunity to think of God as, as someone that we can open our problems and our travails with, but do it in a very candid way and try not to make it as superficial and Sojourner Truth was certainly one who did that.
What's the influence of spirituals on the Civil Rights Movement?
It is not by mistake that the leaders of the Civil Rights Movements were generally ministers and people who led congregations. It was that deep faith that allowed them to be able to proceed with the Civil Rights Movements. Some of the great anthems that emerged, out of the Civil Rights Movement really came as a result from religious fruits, from the spirituals. "We Shall Overcome," came out of the gospel tradition and simply was rewritten to be able to allow for African Americans, as well as others who were joining them in the struggle, to understand what it was that they were struggling against and that they would some day overcome the odds. And so many, African Americans as well as Caucasians and others were led off to jail as a result of the civil disobedience singing hymns and singing the songs of spirituality that simply gave them the courage to face what they were having to deal with.
Why do you think they speak to all of us today all of these years later?
Spirituals really provided the gamut of emotions, the gamut of prayers, so that even though we have not gone through the horrors of slavery, we can appreciate what it was that they were trying to express. And so when we sing songs, for example, within Christianity, "Were you there, when they crucified my Lord?" I mean how truly beautiful that is and the words that are expressed in it, but they're as relevant today as they were when it was written as a spiritual, and that's the case with almost all of the spirituals.
Please go through in a little bit more detail and explain that genesis from spirituals into gospel, into blues, into Jazz.
Well, it became clear that African Americans found the greatest solace, bar none, in their faith. I wouldn't necessarily even say religion as much as faith, the faith that their lives would and could ultimately be better. And in the aftermath of the spirituals people took them to heart. When the Johnson brothers came together and put together this treasury of spirituals, African Americans, for the first time during what some believe was the African American renaissance, you really understand this musical heritage that they had. So various musical genres began to emerge. It wasn't just from, certainly, this treasury of spirituals, but that certainly became a catalyst that allowed people to try to express their own spiritual feelings, emotions, and thoughts through music. Music was really the heartbeat of African Americans and so to be able to develop in other art forms was really a natural progression from those spirituals.
What were some of the risks for slaves in expressing themselves through spirituals? This is obviously a type of prayer that had potentially dangerous consequences?
They did have dangerous consequences and frankly with the spirituals the notion of gathering at two and three o'clock in the morning had its own risks. No matter how quiet they were in trying to gather in the fields or behind cabins, the one thing they had to worry about were the infamous night riders who would gallop by horse to be able to find slaves who were in disobedience of their master's orders to simply be confined to their cabins at night. If a nightrider were to find a slave praying, doing something that was not acceptable, the consequences could be severe. And so there were incredible risks that were associated with slaves attempting to come together and to pray. Often there were prayers, and there are wonderful spirituals that really are disguised so that the white masters had no idea exactly what they were talking about, but everybody who was a slave knew exactly what they were talking about.
So, for example, when they talked about the Israelites and fleeing into Egypt, they were thinking of themselves, but the white masters simply thought that they were dealing with the notion of the Old Testament which they themselves dealt with when they went to church on Sundays. So it's a fascinating twist of how, in some ways, African Americans were able to use spirituals as a way to tweak their own white masters, at their own game.
Did you look at the prayers of the white slave masters and, if so, was there any sense of recognizing what they were doing was wrong or did they justify what they were doing enslaving people through prayer?
In most instances they simply weren't thinking in spiritual or religious terms. I think we need to remind ourselves that it just wasn't the south but it was also the north, for a very long period of time that allowed for slavery to take place. So, you know, it was Martin Luther King, Jr. who once made the remark that the most segregated moment in the life of America was at ten o'clock on Sunday mornings. There was certainly that sort of thing that occurred, during the days of slavery. But, the white slave masters, in most instances, were simply not able to connect the notion of what they were doing in their daily lives with what was transpiring in their worship. There was a complete disconnect. I find it fascinating in human events that we are so often able to compartmentalize our lives. We recently have seen a number of individuals who have gone to jail because of things that they've done with their shareholders but, at the same time, they will publicly vow that they are very religious individuals. Prayer, hopefully, is a way that allows us to be able not to compartmentalize our lives, but to be able to allow us to continue to remind us as to what we're doing here on this earth, what we should be doing, and putting our lives in proper perspective.
Your book also looks closely at Harriet Tubman. What was it about her prayer life that interested you?
One of the outstanding figures, I think, of the Civil War period was that of Harriet Tubman, known as the Moses of her people. There wasn't a time where Harriet Tubman wasn't praying to God to be able to see that her mission was successful. Some of her writings that have come down through the ages are remarkable in how she, again, very much like Sojourner Truth, would speak very candidly with God. The superficiality, the artificiality was off, it was unvarnished, it was, God, you've gotta help me. There was a time, for example, when there were some nightriders who were after her and she was hiding in a boat and she prayed and prayed and prayed that they wouldn't find her, and it was remarkable because they were standing right over her. And so, you know, to read these wonderful recollections of how people were able to deceive the evil doers and believed that prayer was somehow able to allow them to overcome those kinds of dilemmas and obstacles and challenges, I think is absolutely fascinating. You know, when we talk about the period of slavery in American life, it is certainly one of the sad chapters. But, I found that in the prayers and learning more about the people who offered those prayers and those spirituals, that my own faith has been enriched, that there is a silver lining in that because they have left us a legacy which is truly unique, and gives us an opportunity to put life in perspective.
In your research, did you find that any differences in how men and women pray?
I tried very hard. I could have written an entire book about women. I mean the women just prayed like crazy. But, honestly there weren't great differences that I found between the sexes. I wanted to find it, and I tried very hard, but I really didn't. I think human beings generally have much the same emotional makeup, when it comes to spiritual things. You'd find, for example, women perhaps praying more for their children, or perhaps more for a pregnancy.
Okay. I was curious. Another period of American history to explore is the social gospel and also the businessman's revival. Can you paint a visual picture of what America's like at the turn of the 20th Century. What's going on in the cities? What's the social circumstances, what do American cities look like and why is there even a need for a social gospel movement?
America at the turn of the 20th Century was really in the throes of trying to identify exactly who and what it was. The immigrants that were particularly pouring in from Europe had made a significant difference in America. Spiritually there were a lot of questions that were being raised at the time. Darwin's Theory of Evolution had been out for at least a half a century at that point, and there were a lot of questions as to creationism versus evolution. And so, there was spiritually there were a lot of questions that were being left unanswered in some ways.
The population was exploding at the seams, particularly in the inner cities. And, with people coming over in such droves, and without jobs being readily available at the moment people were coming to America, it was clear that, that we were headed for a crisis. America did relatively well, and I would say probably did better than other countries would have found themselves under similar circumstances at the beginning of the 20th Century, but it didn't take away from the fact that there were inequities and that there were inequalities, trying to figure out exactly how do we deal with this disequilibrium that was occurring in America at the time. And so, there were people like Walter Rauschenbusch who came to the fore, who began to espouse things like the social gospel. And what he meant by that was simply this, that we ought to take the words and the actions of Jesus Christ to heart, and to be able to see that in our actions and in our prayers, that we try to include the least fortunate among us, the poorest of the poor. And so Walter Rauschenbusch, who came from a rather religious family, German extraction, began to really get heavily involved in New York City and elsewhere to be able to produce soup kitchens, and to be able to help foster the kind of environment that led to the Salvation Army, for example, coming to the United States and being so very successful in trying to deal with all of these inequalities.
But something that I think it rather important to note, and that is that when it came Walter Rauschenbusch, who himself was a minister, or to the Salvation Army, that whenever they engaged in these kinds of charitable activities, that they always made sure that they were accompanied by prayer. So that when Salvation Army would bring people together, they were always praying, before they would put a fee meal on the table, people had to say grace. Walter Rauschenbusch wrote some of the most beautiful prayers that tried to really focus on specifically disadvantaged individuals. One that comes to my mind is a prayer that he wrote about children who were being put into factories, children who were far too young to be put into sweatshops. He even wrote prayers, for businessmen and women and prayers for journalists. He was trying to give specific groups a conscience through those prayers. Prayer can give, I think, individuals an opportunity to reflect in ways that other thing might not be able to do. The social gospel, I think, was as successful as it was because it brought both prayer and action together. And Walter Rauschenbusch's works became really one of the strongest examples in the life of a Martin Luther King, Jr., which he would attest to many, many times in his adult life.
Please give me some more background. Who was Walter Rauschenbusch?
Walter Rauschenbusch was the son of German immigrants who had come to the United States and settled in New York City. He came at a time when America was experiencing this explosion of populations, particularly coming from Eastern Europe, from Italy, and really the last remnants coming from Ireland. As a son of a minister himself, he began to realize that what was happening and what he was witnessing around him was anything but what the gospels of Christ tried to convey. And so he believed that it was really his responsibility and his role as a minister, to be able to do more than simply stand up at a podium on a Sunday and deliver sermons that would try to lead people in a certain direction. And so he believed that action was just as important as preaching on a Sunday morning. Not only did he try to create an activism within places like New York City to be able to address the needs of hunger, and the needs of clothing, the medical treatment of individuals, but he also believed that it was important to write to be able to reach a large audience, to let them know of the plight of these individuals that he was experiencing day in and day out. It was very difficult for someone in Des Moines, Iowa to understand what was going on in the middle of New York City. And, as a consequence, it was someone like Walter Rauschenbusch who was able to not only show his own ways of being able to deal with the plight of poverty in New York City but to write about it, to write prayers and to write prose and essays about it, so that many Americans found out about the problems and the plight of places like New York City through Walter Rauschenbusch.
Why does he take the step to say, I'm also going to tell you my private, inner most prayers, and I've expressed them, I'm going publish them, I want you to know about them. What was his rationale?
His rationale was much like others, and it simply was this, he really didn't want to publish them as much as others wanted him to publish them. He wrote them to be used on Sunday mornings and he used them to be able to focus on individual groups who were in particular need of help, not only the downtrodden, but also the people who were ignoring the downtrodden at the time. And so there were those who really pushed him very hard to see that those prayers would be produced in publishing form, and so that's really how that came to be.
Did the prayers resonate with people or was there criticism, resistance, to what he was saying? And if there was criticism and resistance, why?
I think we can even think of modern examples where people are walking down the street and trying to ignore poverty on the right side and on the left side as they walk, and I think it was the same situation with Walter Rauschenbusch. But for somebody to read an essay of Rauschenbusch's or a prayer that tried to convey what it was like for a child to be working in a sweatshop, it certainly allowed them to have a knowledge that they would not have otherwise had and that kind of knowledge, ultimately leads to actions and, at the very least, for somebody perhaps living in the middle of the country, at least leading them to pray to be able to help those more unfortunate people in the inner cities.
It seems throughout American religious history there' always a divide. You have people that believe that a religious person should be working towards personal salvation, and then you have others that believe that it needs to be expressed through good works. Did Rauschenbusch speak to this?
I think Walter Rauschenbusch was really praying both for being able to help God's children on this earth as well as for salvation. I don't think that those two are mutually exclusive from one another. By being able to help your neighbor he was essentially carrying forward the gospel of Christ. In carrying forward the gospel of Christ, you clearly were forging a path towards salvation. And so I think that's what was very important to Walter Rauschenbusch. He really took the gospels of Christ to heart and not only to heart in some kind of private way, but he did so in a very public way.
What was his influence and impact on his contemporaries?
There were people like Teddy Roosevelt who had been Governor of New York and who certainly was very familiar with Walter Rauschenbusch's works and who himself came from a fairly religious family. Roosevelt became very much a progressive when it came to dealing with an awful lot of these issues. And so I think Walter Rauschenbusch, as well as some of the other voices of the day, allowed for individuals to understand the kinds of challenges that America was facing walking into the, the 20th Century, which historians would later refer to as the American Century. So I think, Walter Rauschenbusch is not the sole individual responsible for giving a notion of the social gospel, but he certainly was one of the great voices that led to the creation of the social gospel.
I'm going to list a few individuals influenced by Rauschenbusch. Let, let's start with Dorothy Day.
Dorothy Day was a rather extraordinary woman who certainly was part of the continuum of Walter Rauschenbusch, who believed that there was not only a plight among those who were taking up the cause of civil rights but that there was also a plight among Americans who were impoverished, simply because of circumstances, and that it was up to us, meaning the government, meaning various social groups, to take up their cause and to be able to bring to light the inequity so that somehow we could address them in someways, She worked quite hard in publishing a rather popular newspaper among certain groups to be able to bring a lot of these issues into play. Actually she was such an example to many that some have even taken up her cause for sainthood within the Catholic Church. And so she certainly was a great influence, particularly in the 1950's and 1960's.
Were there any prayers or anything about the way that she Prayed or expressed herself through the prayer that you Found noteworthy?
I found what was note worthy was that she had led a very difficult life, one would not refer to as saint like in her early days. But there was an occasion during the Wilson Administration in which she came to Washington for a march that was to deal with some of these inequalities, and she ended at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which many people know in Washington as one of the largest structures that exist in the nation's capital today. And she sat there and she prayed and she began to cry, and she began to pray some more. And she believes that it was at that moment that she realized her life's course in being able to deal with carrying out, in an active way, the social gospel. And so it was again, much like Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, kitchen conversion, that was a moment for her that was an epiphany that carried her to the end of her life.
What about the influence of Rauschenbusch's work on Martin Luther King?
I think we forget the fact that Martin Luther King, Jr. actually had his Ph.D. This is someone who was a very learned individual, this was not just somebody who came out of nowhere to lead the Civil Rights Movement. And so he was very learned in taking up the writings of several individuals who he found fascinating, both in college and in his graduate work. One was Walter Rauschenbusch. Walter Rauschenbusch, of course was an American, someone who had known what it was like to be able to face the kinds of inequalities that New York City was facing at the turn of the century, but he also became a great advocate of Gandhi. And, indeed, found that Gandhi's, philosophy of non- violent demonstration was to be his cradle for the rest of his life. And so it's really though that learning process when he was a student that Walter Rauschenbusch really took hold in the mind of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Please also talk to the role of for another social activist, Caesar Chavez.
You know, one of the thing's I think is important to realize and that is that every immigrant group that has come to this country has ultimately created a more vibrant prayer culture than we had before they arrived. When largely Catholics came to the United States in the 19th Century, they provided really a vitality and a vibrancy to the prayer culture in this country that was really becoming somewhat deadened among certain Protestant groups. And going into the 20th Century, we today of course are dealing with an immigration problem that is being discussed over and over again on Capital Hill. But what I think is important to realize is that so many of the Hispanic immigrants - and this is the case with other immigrants as well but let me just focus for a moment on Hispanic immigrants. There has been a religiosity, a spirituality that has come that has really helped to enliven our spiritual lives.
Cesar Chavez is an example. He was born and raised here in the United States, but his parents were from Mexico, and he believed that before he took up any cause in the fields of California or elsewhere to be able to create better wages, better living conditions for his workers that he pray. And so he wrote a prayer that ultimately was made part of his own monument and tombstone where he's buried to this day that certainly creates not only the image, but I think the reality that Hispanics, that immigrants have continued to turn to prayer as an important component in their lives.
You know, it's very interesting, but there's a social theory that has gone to show that when immigrants come to this country that their spiritual lives are actually enhanced by coming to America. And the reason for that is they come together maybe once a week or so. They're so grateful for coming to the United States, to see the bounty of the United States, and, therefore they become far more religious, far more spiritually vibrant. This isn't the case in all instances, but this is largely the case throughout American history. And I think Cesar Chavez and the immigrants that have subsequently come to the United States have continued to show that sort of thing. We see festivals that celebrate some of the great saints that are carried through neighborhoods. We see on Good Friday services in which people outdoors and it's really a part of the Hispanic culture, that one finds that. And it simply enriches rather than detracts from America. What I like to say is that when we see these extraordinary influences that come to America they don't dilute our faith, but rather they dilate our faith. And I have found through the examples, particularly of immigrants recently come to America that their own faith has been inspiring for me and for others.
Returning to the social gospel period at the beginning of the 20th Century, but this time going at it from a different angle. Can you talk about Andrew Carnegie and his use of prayer.
There were a group of men known as robber barons who essentially captured the American economy in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century and it simply was because there were no rules or regulations that existed in the federal government that prevented them from doing the kinds of things that they ultimately did. But it's interesting to realize how many of them really were a fairly religious lot. For example, JP Morgan, not only was he a devoted Episcopalian who knew every hymn and prayer by heart, but he even was involved in helping to revise the book of common prayer.
In the case of Jay Rockefeller, whenever he took his family on vacation he would do it by train across the country and he would find out where there were religious revivals taking place and often would stop to visit a revival. And so he came from a very rich Baptist tradition. But Andrew Carnegie was a particularly interesting individual who as a boy grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and it was there that he really did not become so much religious, but very spiritual. He believed that there was a greater force that all of us needed to acknowledge. When he became older, his secretary walked into his office one day with a letter from a Presbyterian minister from Scotland who made a rather unusual request and it was simply this: Would you please help us restore an organ that is in disrepair in our Presbyterian church here in Scotland? And so Andrew Carnegie said go ahead, write the check and send it to him.
Well, what he didn't realize was that what he was doing was somehow going to end up in the press and it ended up in the press in Europe and in the United States. And so Andrew Carnegie was absolutely besieged with requests to be able to help restore or actually purchase organs for churches and as well as libraries. Well, he realized that music did enhance the experience of prayer and that an organ did help in many instances in that experience. And so he decided that, yes, he would go ahead and begin essentially to fund the restoration or the outright purchase of organs. And so literally over his lifetime - and mind he started this at a fairly late age - he was responsible for literally the financing of more than 7500 organs. So when we think of Andrew Carnegie we can think of libraries and we can think of organs at the same time.
What was his attitude towards wealth and philanthropy and how was that influenced by his prayer experience?
Well, he was a universalist and he wrote quite a treatise on the fact that people must act responsibly with the money that they've been given. He did believe in an almighty and the fact that he was given certain talents and given certain opportunities. And as a result of that responsibility to whom much is given, much is expected. And so he respected that, believed that he needed to be able to put together the kind of charity, that ultimately would become so synonymous with the name Carnegie, whether it's museums or libraries or organs.
What is the Businessmen's Revival? Why is it occurring at this particular point in time? How would you characterize it?
Well, the Businessmen's Revival actually began in 1848. That was the very first one and the reason for that was because there was a fairly serious recession that was beginning to hit the United States that was really on the verge of depression, and so American businessmen generally were trying to figure out how to cope with it. They were returning home without paychecks to their families in the evenings trying to figure out how to deal with what was turning out to be a very desperate situation. Ultimately the recession corrected itself before we entered the Civil War, but what happened was decisions were made that businessmen needed to turn to God and they needed to do so through prayer.
So what happened, and it was almost like wild fire catching on, you had businessmen across the United States in major cities and smaller communities get together almost every day of the week at lunch to be able to prayer and to be able to commiserate with one another as to what they were going through. And so in that period of 1848 until about 1852, 1853 you had this revival mainly among businessmen, small business men, as well as large businessmen, who would simply shutter down to their their local mom and pop store to be able to go to the revival. And, they would have different people stand up and speak. They didn't necessarily need to be a minister who was leading them in prayer, but individuals could stand up and lead everybody in prayer and talk about his experience in trying to deal with the very reality with try to deal with the realities of the recession.
And does continue into this kind of turn of the 20th Century?
It does. It comes at different times. There are quite a few businessmen and women today who come together just for the purpose of being able to deal with prayer and to commune with one another on and even during wealthy times. For example, I've been invited to speak to a number of groups. Some of these groups number in the hundreds in which they get together, once a month, sometimes once a week, and they have the chance to be able to pray, talk a bit about excerpts from the bible, talk about certain aspects of homilies that have been given. So there continues to be a desire to be able to turn to God in prayer in certain ways, and the reason, I think even in the good times, is because people are trying desperately to find more to life than simply the dollar, and simply the material things to surround them. And by being able to get together with others of their own kind, they have the chance to be able to compare stories, to be able to really come to grips with what it is that they should be doing in their own perspective in life.
Tell me about the importance of the song, "Stand up, Stand up for Jesus?
The "Stand up, Stand up for Jesus" is quite a hymn that emerged from another businessmen's revival that took place in the late 19th Century and it really all took place in Philadelphia. There was a Reverend Dudley Ting, who came from a very religious family who was an incredibly charismatic individual who not only was a preacher, but he also ran a farm, just outside of Philadelphia. Well, he'd just come from delivering a speech before 5,000 people to thunderous applause, returned home and decided still in his robes to kind of look over the farm and see how these were faring when all of a sudden he came to a thrashing machine in which all of a sudden his sleeve got caught and he found that his entire arm got meshed in the machinery, that ultimately lead to his arm being severed. He was found, a bit later, but the loss of blood was so severe that he ultimately would die. And so as he was taken to his home George Duffield, a fellow pastor, came to see him and as he was literally kneeling next to him as he was dying, it was Dudley Ting who looked at him and said, "Just remember one thing. Stand up, stand up for Jesus." And so it was very difficult for George Duffield not to walk away from that experience and not to put words to music and to see that his good friend was somehow memorialized in this particular hymn, but it was a beautiful hymn that ultimately allowed businessmen and women to be able to realize that they needed courage, that they needed to stand up, stand up for Jesus.
And it was interesting because this particular hymn came after a number of hymns that had been written by a woman by the name of Fanny Crosby and there were a lot of people who began to be concerned that some of the hymns that were being composed in America were a little bit too soft or a little bit too feminine and that they didn't have kind of the muscle that some people felt were needed, which lead to the term that we needed more muscular Christianity. And as a result there were hymns that were being written that tried to create more of a fervor, more of a military ardor to it, and "Stand up, Stand up for Jesus" certainly played into that very, very well and was sung from one businessmen's meeting to another.
How does the YMCA's philosophy fit into this philosophy of muscular Christianity?
Few individuals probably immolated this notion of muscular Christianity more than Theodore Roosevelt, for example. His father was very much involved in the creation of the YMCA in New York, for example and there was this notion that if you were to truly be a soldier of Christ that you had to be a soldier not only in terms of your desire and your spirit, but also your body, that you needed to be in good health. And so in the late 19th Century there really was this movement, some of which was begun by Mary Baker Eddy and her founding of Christian Science, to be able to really deal with this issue of a sound mind and sound body. And so when you would ultimately pray, you could show God that you were living to your fullest physically, spiritually, morally, etc.
Some of the businessmen you mentioned like Carnegie and some of the key robber barons, did they believe they were successful because they prayed?
You know, I think probably they believed that their faith was very much a part of who they were, what they were, and certainly was a component to their success, but there is nothing that I've come across, at least with the robber barons of the 19th and early 20th Century that has lead me to believe that they believed that their prayers ultimately lead to their wealth.
Moving forward slightly in American history then, how does the story of JC Penney and Conrad Hilton reflect the same kind of businessmen's philosophy?
Well, you know, in the case of JC Penney I had a wonderful afternoon that I spent with the last surviving daughter of JC Penney. He wrote quite an autobiography in which he acknowledged the fact that he had really confronted some very serious problems psychological in his life, as well as strategically. He had, left the JC Penney Company at one point and started a foundation in which he was helping farmers in Florida learn how to farm and set up farming. And in the midst of having set all of this up the great crash of 1929 hit and he lost essentially everything. In fact, the home that he lived in he had to shut off most of the home so that he and his wife lived in only about three or four rooms to be able to take care of heating concerns and heating costs. Well, he began to have some very serious problems of depression, and so he went to Battle Creek, Michigan to a famous sanitarium to be able to deal with all of this and literally was on his way to his room when he realized that there was nothing left for him. He was ready to commit suicide. And, as his daughter would confirm for me, he really was on the verge of committing suicide when he heard a small choir in the background in a room singing a hymn with the words don't worry, God will help you out. And with that he realized maybe, just maybe there's an ability to overcome the problems that I'm facing and as a result he chose not to commit suicide and returned to the JC Penney Company. And so ultimately you can say what would have ever happened to the JC Penney Company had it not been for prayer at that particular moment in his life?
In regards to Conrad Hilton,I love his story. I've had the chance to sit down with one of his sons and talk about this and I had the chance to be able to read really a firsthand description of how important prayer was to Conrad Hilton. Conrad Hilton was born and raised in New Mexico. He came from a Catholic family although he was not particularly devout. But his mother taught him that the best investment, the single best investment he could ever make in his life was to pray and he never forgot it. And so he came up with a formula in his mind and it was simply this: That if he was going to take on a particular transaction, if he was going to purchase a hotel property, and mind by the time Conrad Hilton died there was nobody who owned more hotels than Conrad Hilton, that if he prayed and within 48 hours the transaction wasn't taking place, he would drop it, he would forget about it. But if things seemed to be gelling, then he knew it was meant to be.
And so he prayed in front of the Plaza Hotel in New York City and he finally came to own the Plaza Hotel. He did the same thing with the Waldorf Astoria, the Copley Plaza in Boston, the Palmer House in Chicago, and Mayflower in Washington, the St. Francis in San Francisco, and so it became a lifelong formula for him to be able to pray. Now, one can argue as to whether or not that's the right formula, but it certainly was for Conrad Hilton and it certainly avowed in his own mind the faith and importance of prayer.
Tell me about the popular book The Prayer of Jabaz.
One of the most successful books in the latter part of the 20th Century was The Prayer of Jabez. It is a book that was written by Bruce Wilkinson who himself is an ordained minister. He found in the Old Testament a prayer by a minor figure by the name of Jabez who essentially would say a prayer of no more than a few words simply asking God for help. In his book, Reverend Wilkinson decided to really convey the notion that this prayer could, in fact, impart wealth, not just spiritual wealth, but temporary wealth on individuals who would invoke it over a period of time. And so it became so popular that it sold millions and millions and millions of copies. It wasn't very long. In fact, it wasn't very large at all. So people read it rather faithfully and some turned to the book as a way to be able to increase their material riches. It was not uncommon to hear people say that after repeating the prayer that they were able to acquire a Mercedes Benz or their stock portfolio increased by 60%. It also told quite an interesting story about how a man had died and had entered the pearly gates and Saint Peter was taking him on a tour only to see one large warehouse off to the side. The man asked Saint Peter what was there, and so Saint Peter opened the doors and he saw these huge packages with these ribbons that were neatly tied at the top of them. And the man asked Saint Peter what are those? He said well, those are the graces that God would have given to individuals had they only asked God through prayer for those graces. And so here they are sitting here not being used by anybody on earth and how sad that is.
Well, that became somewhat controversial simply telling that story given the fact that some believe that while you certainly can ask God for certain material things and that God will, indeed, grant, God also in his powerful wisdom has a notion of what perhaps is best for you. And I've often found, for example, in my own life that at times I'm trying to pray and I'm looking for prayer to look something like this and I'm looking for it to be delivered at 10:35 on Tuesday morning. Well, the fact is it doesn't quite happen that way and I, in my own life, have found that despite my requests that later on I find that what I asked for turned out to be even bigger and better than I could have ever anticipated.
It's interesting as you're describing that because I'm going to come back to part of your thesis, which is that the political nature and the economic nature in the country would be different if it wasn't for prayer. And to me this prayer as you're describing it seems to be a really uniquely American thing.
Well, again, I think that the notion of The Prayer of Jabez and its popularity resides in the deep spirituality of the American people. Second of all, belief that if you turn to God that God will be there to be able to answer your prayers. I think some people unfortunately misread what the message of that book was, what the message of that prayer was. As a consequence I'm afraid that Americans have tried to look at it as a quick fix. One of the problems that Americans have as a people and we've always had as a people and that is we want everything done yesterday. There is incredible impatience.
There was a wonderful letter that Thomas Merton, the great Monk, wrote to JC Penney actually, in which he talked about this anxiety, this anxiousness on the part of the American people for wanting to have everything immediately. And so I think that The Prayer of Jabez, and the one message certainly that one could get from it is the notion of being able to try to get something right away, the notion that we don't have to be patient, that there is a way to be able to find that through prayer perhaps we can obtain what it is that we want and get it right away. It doesn't quite work out that way, but I think that there is that element in the American spirit that we want things done immediately.
I want to switch gears here and talk about something that's obviously really important. I want you to talk about the Founding Fathers and prayer.
Most all of our Founding Fathers were a very religious group of men. Not only were they religious in their temperament, but they belonged to traditional religious churches. So often we become preoccupied with Thomas Jefferson, with Benjamin Franklin, who really did not belong to specific churches. But by and large we had a religious group of Founding Fathers. They were very different from one another, but nonetheless religious. But even more than being religious they were very spiritual. Most of them were educated in college. Some of them graduated; some of them didn't. But those who went to college found that when they woke up in the morning at 4:30, 5:00, the first thing they did was they pulled on their pants, they put on a shirt, and they ran off to a meeting where they prayed, and it was either the college president or a professor who would lead the assembly in a prayer. Then they would return to their rooms to get ready for breakfast and every meal was preceded by grace. If you did not arrive before grace was said, you didn't eat. And then that evening before you went to bed once again you were brought together in an assembly where you prayed and you were admonished to return to your room and pray one more time before you went to bed.
And so we had a group of Founding Fathers that literally were born into a culture that was steeped in prayer. And I found it just fascinating how the roommate, for example, of Alexander Hamilton talked about how his own religious fervor was increased by simply watching Alexander Hamilton get on his knees late at night and pray, before he went to bed. And so when our Founding Fathers came together for the first time in Philadelphia in September of 1774, it was only natural that they think about prayer, that turning to prayer as as a form of bonding them together was really a very natural expression of what they needed to do. And so I think it's important for us to realize that while they wanted to get away from the whole issue of religion and make sure that there was a separation of church and state, that certainly didn't mean that there was to be an absent of spirituality because all of them truly had a spiritual nature and had been raised in a spiritual culture.
Is this a strictly Christian phenomenon? Could you talk to that or do you see manifestations in different faiths?
It is generally Christianity that has taken root, but certainly there are a number of Jewish groups that do come together, and I think over time we're gonna find more and more businesspeople coming together of various faiths. And quite frankly I know of several individuals who are not Christian, who are not Jews, who are of faiths of the orient, who literally come together even in these Christian settings to be able to commiserate with others and to be able at least to take in what it is that's going on, believing that somehow they're able to be part of a larger community.
What role does prayer play through the Revolutionary War? What's going on in the minds of somebody like George Washington?
Well, you know, it was fascinating because very early on there was a great concern about rallying the American people behind the effort to take on the British. When the Founding Fathers came together for the first time, we forget the fact that we were not trying to separate ourselves from Great Britain. We were simply trying to figure out how to deal with so many problems that were being presented at the time. But what ultimately happened was when we finally decided to go to war as a result of the Declaration of Independence it was realized that we needed to have a little bit more oomph than what we had in taking on such an intimidating foe as Great Britain, and as a result the Founding Fathers realized, once again that prayer was going had to be a part of the arsenal that America used to be able to win the war. And as a consequence there were a number of declarations that congress issued that went out to all of the colonists asking them to pray to be able to benefit the soldiers on the field. For example, when the Revolutionary War started out, John Adams by his own recollection believed that there were probably a third Tories, there were a third loyalists, and there were a third that just were undecided as to where they were. And so there was a need to be able to rally people to say okay, we are taking on an intimidating foe, but we have God on our side. Thomas Paine, for example, in his very famous pamphlet, Common Sense actually talks about God working with the Israelites and how indeed, the Israelites turned to God at their moment of crises. And he even felt compelled at the end, despite the fact that Teddy Roosevelt would later refer to him as that dirty little atheist, he even felt compelled to write a prayer that would give the colonists a sense of purpose and that through their prays that maybe, just maybe they could overcome such a foe as Great Britain.
I'm wondering if you could talk about this notion being God's chosen people, that God is on their side.
Prayers continued to be said asking for victory on the field. Then all of a sudden one day somebody said hey, we've been having a couple of victories. We better start saying thank you. So prayers began to be said to thank God for the victories on the field. But, you know one of the great stories that is told of the era was the very difficult winter, in Valley Forge in which Robert Morris one of our Founding Fathers who essentially was responsible for financing the war, found himself in a very difficult situation. As most American students know that winter in Valley Forge was a particularly rough one both in terms of having food, being able to put boots on soldiers, and all of a sudden it was realized that the congress had run out of money and they simply didn't know what to do. Robert Morris had leveraged everything to be able to provide the provisions necessary to keep the war going for the cause of the patriots. And so it was really on New Year's Eve that he found - although he wasn't a Methodist - that St. George's Methodist Church in Philadelphia was holding an all-night session. And so he went to the church, sat there and prayed and prayed and prayed saying God, I have absolutely no idea what to do. Finally the answer came to him and what did he do, but in the middle of the night he started knocking on the doors of the merchants that he knew in Philadelphia and was able to scramble enough money within twenty four hours to be able to provide for the provisions of our soldiers at Valley Forge and was able through a message to George Washington to let him know just a few miles away that, indeed, they had found enough money to be able to take care at least for the time being the provisions necessary to be able to continue the war.
After the war they write the Constitution and, of course, you have the Bill of Rights and then you have the First Amendment So what are the Founding Fathers thinking? And then moving forward why does religion become such a contentious issue?
Interestingly enough, the Founding Fathers at the time that the Federalist Papers were being written, at the time that they were involved both in the Continental and the Constitutional Conventions really never dealt with this issue of prayer and spirituality in the public place. It was abundantly clear that there had to be a separation of church and state. You take for example George Washington when he was sworn in as President of the United States in New York City, which was our first capitol, not only did he put his hand on a bible but he ended the oath of office, which had not been written down, "so help me God", and that became a precedent by which every president has continued to use that phrase ever since. He then marched to Christ's Church just a couple blocks away from Federal Hall to be able to be involved in a two-hour prayer service. That's another custom that is continued to this very day.
So there has been this deep, deep spirituality that has, I think, been a part of the American fabric. It really wasn't until after the republic came into existence that Thomas Jefferson in a letter talked about the wall of separation between church and state, and that terminology has been open for interpretation in many, many ways.
Advance forward to the Warren Court in the 1950s and early 1960s when they were confronted with some very serious problems related to prayer in school. Now, to maybe backtrack for just one moment, during the 1920s, during the Scopes Trial when the issue of creationism versus evolution was a much heated debate, there was a subplot that was going on at the same time and it simply was this: Every day that the court would meet to be able to decide on the Scopes matter prayer was being said and different ministers from around Dayton, Tennessee would come in and and offer the prayer. Well, Clarence Darrow who was very much defending Scopes at the time believed it was unfairly tarnishing his case by allowing for people to believe and understand that creationism was above all the most important element related to this issue of creationism versus Darwinism. And as a consequence he tried desperately with the judge day after day to see that prayer would be removed from being invoked before the session began and was largely unsuccessful.
Well, by the time the Warren Court came into existence this issue came to head in a very big way. It was one of the most divisive, most difficult decisions that Chief Justice Earl Warren would later admit, um, ever faced him or his court. The letters that simply arrived after they decided that prayer should not be invoked in the classroom really created some some serious strife particularly when poll after poll showed that well more than 70% of the American people were in favor of seeing that prayer be said and recited in the classroom. What Earl Warren tried to do was he said you know, we sat in closed chambers talking about this and we remembered back in 1845 when the Irish came in big numbers to Philadelphia and found that when they entered the public school system, they were forced to say the Lords Prayer, but according to the King James version of a Lords Prayer, which for Irish Catholics was a very serious problem. And as a consequence there were riots in the street of Philadelphia that lead to the killing of several individuals. And so that very much weighed on the minds of the justices at the time and that by trying to define some kind of prayer that would be said in the classroom was in a way trying to direct people in a religious way in one direction or another. And so this issue is one that will never go away simply because of the way it is interpreted in terms of not only our modern day thinking, but also what the intentions of our Founding Fathers happen to be.
Please describe in more detail the public reaction to the Engel school prayer case.
Interestingly enough, some of the religious leaders of the time in the early 1960s after these decisions were handed down by the Supreme Court were actually in favor of the court's decision. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. did not come out against the decision made by the Supreme Court. A number of other prominent clergymen were very much in favor of trying to see that prayer not be a part of the classroom that indeed it should be reserved for outside of the classroom. For John Kennedy, the President of the United States at the time, it was a particularly thorny problem because he had come, um, to the presidency having faced all sorts of accusations that he essentially would be receiving his orders from Rome as a Roman Catholic and being the first Catholic president. And so there was really no desire to take this kind of debate on in the - in the Kennedy Administration itself. And so it was pretty much left to congress to decide what to do.
People like Billy Graham and others, of course, were very much against the decision. Robert Byrd who is now the senior senator from West Virginia and the longest serving senator in history was a strong, strong, proponent of overturning the Supreme Court's decision. But at the end of the day there were problems in simply putting together the necessary majorities to overturn the court's decision. There were hearings in which there are literally hundreds if not thousands of pages and there is not a year that has gone by since that Supreme Court decision first was issued in which there have not been bills introduced for the purpose of overturning the Supreme Court's decision. And so it will be and will continue to be a very serious matter for discussion both in the public square, as well as within the halls of congress, the courts, and the administration.
At the same time we have "In God We Trust" on money and there are a number of times that prayers might be said at say presidential inaugurations Why is prayer such a contentious issue in schools?
Well, I think that there's a concern about the influence that one might have when it comes to a teacher perhaps prescribing a particular prayer in a classroom that may be filled with individuals of faiths that are other than Christian. But it's a remarkable thing, to the point that you just made, every single president of the United States in every one of the inaugural addresses has always mentioned God in some form directly or indirectly has mentioned prayer so that prayer has really been seen as an endearing factor in the fabric of American life. But when it comes to school prayer, that becomes a very different - a very different issue. Um, even the notion of saying grace, for example, at the Virginia Military Institute has a big contentious issue within the courts. And so we have the Supreme Court that begins every session with an invocation with God, we have every session of the house and the senate that begins with a prayer, we have cabinet meetings in the Oval Office that begin with a prayer, but somehow we're not able to translate prayer into the classroom in the same way. It is truly an anomaly in a system that we have developed so far that embraces prayer but at the same time tries to put a certain distance trying to make sure that legally we are being absolutely politically correct.
I'm going to switch gears again on you. We haven't talked a lot yet historically about women's prayers. Tell me about the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Who were they, what was going on, and what are they praying for?
Alcoholism became a very serious public issue in the late 19th Century. It became such an issue that obviously it lead to a provision in the Constitution, which forbade people to serve alcohol in public places and we know the history of that later in in the 20th Century. But there were a group of women, a woman by the name of Francis Willard in particular was famous for having come to understand how alcohol was destroying the family unit. That was a big cry, the notion that somehow a father could walk into a household after perhaps a shift at the mill drunk and essentially taking that disease, that alcoholism and really having a dramatic impact on his family. It was mainly geared towards men although women certainly were alcoholics as well, but there were an incredible group of women that came together and decided that they were going to publicly show how important it was to rid this country of the ills of alcoholism. And even J.D. Rockefeller's wife went into bars with a number of other women trying to be able to get men to go home to their families and not sit at the bars and drink.
I love, for example, the stories of Carrie Nation who literally would walk into these bars, these saloons with axes and begin to just smash glasses and the oak bars that were in these taverns to be able to show her disdain for all of this. And one of the fascinating stories is how she would ultimately end up in prison and the news people would just follow her with great delight and the only time she would allow photographers to take a photograph of her was if she was on her knees with her prayer book praying for all of these alcoholics and for the cause that she took on in Temperance.
So prayer's really an integral role to the women in their campaign?
It was. In fact prayer was absolutely key. There were even a number of songs that were composed that talked about praying for these people. To be fair, these women truly had nothing but good intentions. They were concerned about the family, they were concerned about alcoholism that was not understood the way that is today, trying to put an end to it because they realized how it was becoming the ruination of the family unit and of America generally they felt. And so that's that was really what was the reasoning behind it.
At the same time this was occurring we're seeing women who were pushing for their vote in the political realm. And, there were stereotypes about women at this time, but what I find fascinating about your book was how so many of these women were really motivated by prayer and prayers were sustaining them in their fight for political voice and the vote.
No question. I think that women generally are a more religious bunch than men. They find that, that the opportunity to pray, to be able to find guidance is an important element in their lives. That's not to say that large portions of men don't feel the same way, but I think women in the late 19th, early 20th Century, really were very concerned about the direction of the country. In fact, the Pentecostal movement began in the early part of the 20th Century through a woman. So women really did take on a very important task.
One of my favorite stories of them all about how prayer overtook perhaps a woman was in the case of Amy Semple McPherson. Amy Semple McPherson was a Canadian by birth but came to the United States at a rather early age, and she decided that her mission in life was to be a preacher. And so she ultimately built an extraordinary temple in the city of Los Angeles. It had a cross on the top of it that could be seen for 50 miles away that would light up. She was such an Evangelical that what she would do is she would hold press conferences on airport tarmacs and talk about the importance of prayer, get into a biplane, and then start throwing leaflets out from the plane for people around wherever the plane happened to be flying.
Well, in the case of Los Angeles she became so popular that thousands upon thousands of people would stand in line just to be able to hear her preach and prayer was really at the core of her preaching and the services normally would last for three hours. You wouldn't see Sister Amy Semple McPherson until the last hour. And for the first two hours you would sit there and you would watch these extraordinary dramas unfold. You would see Christopher Columbus, for example, discovering America.
My favorite was the battle between the angels and the devils in which there was literally a scoreboard that was above the stage in which you literally could see who was winning between good and evil and you were admonished to pray harder and harder and harder to make sure that good would win and vanquish evil. And so you would have people that would just be sitting there praying harder and harder and harder and at the end of day the evil was vanquished by good. And then all of a sudden came the time, the great moment that everybody was waiting for, and that was for Amy Semple McPherson appearance on stage. And in one of her temples she literally had an incredible staircase that would slowly begin to come down to the floor and there would be a fog that would just absolutely start to bellow out from this hole that was created, and she would begin to walk down the stairs. And as she walked down the stairs very slowly she would continue to look up and then finally the staircase would begin to ascend back into its original place and she was standing there with roses, taking a rose out and pushing it to the heavens to be able to essentially in peoples' mind thank God for having given her this ministry. And so that sort of theatrics was wild and who came up with some of the props for her but Charlie Chaplain and who was one of the individuals who actually played in her orchestra and during the weekdays would go out on the streets playing his saxophone and praying with people to convert them to come to her church was young Anthony Quinn who would later become the actor. And so I find that - that Amy Semple McPherson was able to give Evangelicals a benchmark that has been hard to even match today.
There's a section in your book that transitions from the Women's Temperance Movement into Alcoholics Anonymous. I'm just going to read you a quick sentence. You say," unlike the Women's Temperance Movement, which looked at elective prayer to advance support of sobriety, AA structured its program around prayer and the individual." Compare and contrast those two movements and then tell me what the role of prayer was in Alcoholics Anonymous.
The two movements, the Women's Temperance Movement of the late 19th Century and Alcoholics Anonymous, were very different in the individuals who were involved and the motivation. Whereas the Women's Temperance Movement was really lead by women who were concerned about the family unit, Alcoholics Anonymous was really begun by men who really were very concerned and believed that alcoholism had its roots in a very different way that women or anybody else had understood it in the late 19th Century and that to be able to overcome addiction that there was a need to be able to have support, to have somebody or someone to be able to turn to, as well as to be able to turn to something like prayer.
In other words, Alcoholics Anonymous believed that if you were to overcome an addiction that was self inflicted that the way to be able to overcome that self infliction was to be able to turn elsewhere, to be able to see that your problems could somehow be supported, to be helped, to be overcome through other means. And prayer became a way of being able to do just that, that I can't handle this by myself. I have this problem, I don't know how to get rid of it, but please, you work with me, let me pray, let us try to find ways to be able to overcome this addiction. And so Alcoholics Anonymous really took on a very different tint than the Women's Temperance Movement for a couple of reasons. One, it was begun by men, but, more importantly, alcoholism by the late 1940s and early 1950s was understood a bit more than it had been 50, 60 years earlier.
How does the Serenity Prayer fit into that?
Reinhold Niebuhr who was one of certainly the great theologians of the 20th Century allowed individuals to know that there was only so much that they could do in their lives to overcome certain problems and that they had to give up their foibles, their physical failings, their spiritual failings to God. "Please help me, God, to overcome what I can overcome. Help me to be able to deal with those things that I cannot overcome." It was probably the first time that prayer was written certainly of the magnitude that this prayer took on that really tried to deal with the human condition in a very realistic way. It was not varnished with a coating of everything's gonna be okay. It was really trying to deal with real life problems and how to be able to deal with it on a day-to-day basis.
I think this also might be a fitting place to talk about the origins of Christian Science
We spoke earlier about muscular Christianity in which there was this notion that you needed to be hearty in body, mind, and soul. Well, it was at that very same time that Mary Baker Eddy began to really espouse a brand new religious philosophy, a new religious tenet that the human body, that the human spirit could in fact overcome certain health conditions rather than simply turning to medicines, turning to various surgical that with prayer and with a will to live and to be able to survive and overcome that that was really a formula for physical success. And as a consequence she was able to really develop a large following very, very quickly in which churches from coast to coast were built.
This notion of health and prayer, science and prayer became really very much intertwined in terms of people trying to figure out what the relationship was. And so as the Century progressed there continued to be great interest, but there really was not the kind of scientific interest that we have seen over the past 20 years. I would dare say that in the last 10 to 20 years there has been more research, more work done by respected universities than has ever been done in the history of man on the question of the relationship between prayer and health. And when I say the relationship between prayer and health, I'm not just talking about patients who pray to see that whatever malady they're facing is overcome, but also intercessory prayer so that if you're ill, I'm praying for your betterment or your benefit, your getting better. And so there has been an awful lot that has come together to be able to understand that relationship.
Medical doctors and nurses are being trained to take a history of peoples' spirituality much in the way a number of years ago for the first time people were being asked about their sexual history. They want to know about their spiritual history because they've come to believe that the spiritual element can contribute to their wellness, can contribute to the success of recovery in the hospital or elsewhere. And so it's been very fascinating.
The findings have been very different and I think it'll continue to be controversial for a number of years to come. But the findings so far have been so promising that it has lead not only private institutions and foundations, but also the U.S. government to provide funding to be able to try to understand it more than we have because I think it is fair to say that prayer does play a part, particularly for people who are praying themselves. It lifts their spirit. Some people refer to it as self-actualization that somehow if you start to internalize everything that you somehow are going to become better. I would like to think that through faith and through a desire to be able to get better and looking for a higher power much in the way Alcoholics Anonymous looks to someone else to be able to help pull you up that that is, in fact, the key ingredient that allows for prayer and science to have such an important interconnection.
What is the role of the Internet today? Obviously it is starting to take on a role in facilitating prayer.
The Internet has taken prayer to a whole new level which I find to be absolutely fascinating. There are more hits when it comes to prayer than almost any other subject. People turn to the Internet to be able to find out how, why, when, where to pray. They're looking for people that they can pray with, they're looking for guidance in terms of specific prayers that they might be able to pray. It really has become a unifying force for people who live thousands of miles away from one another to be able to bond, through prayer. And so the Internet has really created an opportunity when it comes to prayer that really was never afforded. It's interesting but way back when Jonathan Edwards who was probably our single greatest theologian in history was alive he tried to start a movement in which he would bring together essentially a world consciousness of prayer and tried to get things moving between Great Britain and the Americans. It was unsuccessful for a variety of reasons, but I think he must find it fascinating to be looking down perhaps these days and seeing how the Internet has created exactly what it was he was trying to create hundreds of years ago.
Let's turn to something you said in your book about the Civil War period and I want you to explain what you meant there. You said at no time did prayer seem more important, more needed, or more misunderstood.
I begin the chapter on the Civil War talking about a very sweet and a very simple story about two sisters by the name of Warner who actually had a Sunday school that was just outside the gates of West Point in New York. And they wrote a very sweet hymn that they would sing in church and they would have their pupils sing, and their pupils happened to be many of the soldiers who would fight in the Civil War and would fight against one another. And that hymn was "Jesus Loves Me, This I know." And it is such a beautifully innocent hymn. It almost gives you a sense of what America was like, not withstanding the very serious problem of slavery, but the innocence that America really was experiencing. And so when America finally did come to war there was a notion on the part of people both in the north and the south that it would be through prayer that victory could be attained and that whoever prayed harder, whoever prayed longer could win on the battlefield.
I talk in the book about how the north believed that God was dressed in blue and how the Confederates believed that God was dressed in gray. Indeed, they saw God cast in their own image and likeness so that when the war finally came to an end, there was a certain amount of dismay in trying to deal with this issue, particularly in the south, as to how prayer had failed people because if prayer was the answer to everything, then certainly their prayers had not been answered.
There's a couple of classic songs and prayers that emerge during this time and I wonder if you could talk about the genesis, inspiration and story behind them. Let's start wit the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Julia Ward Howe's husband had been an appointee of Abraham Lincoln's, and they lived in New York and came to Washington DC only to find along the way the ravages of war and seeing various battalions getting suited up and ready for battle. Those were the days when, for example, in the Battle of Bull Run people from Washington would actually go out by coach and have picnics, watching the battles taking places. It was an extraordinary time. And she went out with her husband by carriage to be able to get just a glimpse of what was transpiring with the Civil War. And she had an editor friend who had long tried to convince her to be able to use her writing skills and to give life to what was going on in at the time in the United States. And so she and her husband were staying at the Willard Hotel, which exists today and sits right next to the White House, and as she began to fall asleep all of a sudden it came to her the words of what would turn out to be the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
And so she went to her writing desk and she wrote them down as she looked out at Pennsylvania Avenue. And she showed it to her editor friend who loved it from the very beginning, and for a very paltry sum of money, she sold it to him and it took immediate fire amongst so many people and really came to be almost the national hymn for the country. I think both the words, as well as the music gave America a sense of hope. And even to this day whether we're talking north over south it really becomes a moment of reflection whenever we hear it being performed.
What was the role of prayer for that everyday, common soldier? How did prayer impact what was going on during the war, what kind of powerful examples might you give of prayers that you've discovered in your research?
Well, I think we always need to remember that we lost more people on the battlefield during the Civil War than we have ever lost in any war at any time in our history. We had brothers fighting against brothers, cousins against cousins. There were well over half a million deaths as a result of the Civil War. There were enclavements that allowed these men while they were waiting for the next battle to sit and to write letters to their families and also to sit back and to write prayers and to reflect on exactly their mortality, the ravages of war and what all of this meant. And most all of these individuals had come from pretty devout families. They came from rural areas in which they were bound together by one cause and that was this war that they suddenly found themselves in. And so the prayers of their youth came, I think, to them in a big way as they dealt with the realities of the here and now. Some of them wrote their own prayers, some of them found comfort in reading the prayers of others and the prayers of their childhood. But it was really a time in which the ravages of a war that some historians have referred to as the first modern war really came to light and allowed Americans for the first time to understand what war truly is all about and what its consequences ultimately can be.
Why was President Lincoln throughout this war compelled to call upon God in prayer?
You know, I often find it fascinating how presidents of the United States turn to prayer, turn to God. I find it rather reassuring that when a president of the United States is elected that he comes to appreciate that he is held responsible not only to the American people who voted for him, but also to a higher power. It is a very lonely office and it could never have been any lonelier than it was for Abraham Lincoln, a man of modest means from Illinois who had experienced great loss throughout his life both in terms of children dying, as well as defeats in his career, to all of a sudden be saddled over the Civil War that he had tried in every which way to avoid. And so he really found that he only had one place to turn and that was to God. This is not a man who belonged to a church. He never belonged to a religious faith, but he would, for example, go to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church for Wednesday night prayer services, and he would sit in the pastor's office with the door slightly ajar while he listened to the pastor, the people gathered together praying, to deal with the consequences of the Civil War itself.
One of the lines that Abraham Lincoln once delivered, which I find to be absolutely electrifying, and that is that when we pray to God, let's try to make sure that we're not praying that God is on our side as much as we are on his side. In my book I wrote his entire second inaugural address in its entirety simply because the entire second inaugural address of Abraham Lincoln was a prayer onto itself. It was an examination of America, of where we had come from, what we had want for ourselves in the midst of Civil War, and where it was that we were going. He was a very spiritual man, and I would argue that it was that spirituality which allowed him to be able to lead the country the way he did and to repeat that wonderful line of Marian Anderson. He was certainly one who found that prayer began where human endurance ended. He needed it all the time.
He really didn't write prayers per se, not at all. It was really his addresses in which he would invoke prayer or he would come out and he would say that often he found that when he was up against a wall that he found himself more times than not falling on his knees to pray because there was no other recourse. But he really did not write prayers per se.
I came across something about Abraham Lincoln that's fascinating. There was a reporter from the Sacramento Bee. I didn't even know that the Sacramento Bee from California existed when Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States, but the reporter was able to catch the president off guard and he said to him. "Mr. President, do you pray each day?" And the president said yes. He said even if it's 10 words, I do pray each day. And so I think he was very spiritual. He had a very, very difficult domestic life, with a wife who had some serious mental problems, but he also had two sons that died and it really was a very difficult challenge to deal with the Civil War, to deal with the human tragedies that he was dealing with and to confront even some physical problems he himself had to deal with. Spirituality and his ability to turn to God through prayer was really a key and chief ingredient, to his success as commander in chief.
Why did Woodrow Wilson believe that God had chosen him to lead the United States at this particular time?
Well he came to his faith as a result of his being the son of a Presbyterian minister, and it was a very strict Presbyterian home in which he was raised. But one has to understand that America at that particular time was powerful, rich, but was experiencing an inferiority complex. It didn't quite know what the future held for it. When we went off to World War I, there was an idealism that ultimately vanished after we realized what war was all about.
One of the stories that really affected me as I was reading was about the literary figure, the great poet Joyce Kilmer who wrote the very famous poem, Trees, that every student up until about 1950, 1960 was required to recite by memory. And he became a U.S. soldier in France and literally, wrote a prayer that he called A Prayer From a Soldier in France that he sent home to his wife who was also a poet, and it would be the last prayer, the last writing that he would ever compose after being shot by the Germans.
And so I think that Woodrow Wilson found that as president he had come across a very difficult situation, none of which was perhaps more severe since the days of Abraham Lincoln. And so he then came to conclude that by coming and having God perhaps choosing him to be president of the United States that he could lead the world, if not the United States, to a peace for all times and he tried to create a League of Nations in which we could come together and try to discuss the problems of the world and resolve them in some way. And so the peace that he hoped that he would be able to mold in the likeness of his deep religious faith unfortunately was a difficult one for him. When he won his election the first time as president of the United States he turned to his campaign manager and he said well, thanks very much for everything you did, but I must tell you that no matter what you did or what you didn't do, I still would have become president of the United States because God willed it. That's how deeply he felt God had chosen him to be president of the United States.
How were the soldiers praying during WWI? Were there similarities, were there differences in the types of prayers that you found from soldiers during the Civil War?
You know, it is interesting, but I have found that the prayers of soldiers change very little from war to war, and that has been a rather dramatic thing for me to have learned. Certainly the language can be a little different, it's perhaps a little bit more stilted 100, 200 years ago, but the fact remains is that there is the same need for prayer, the same wants, the same human emotions and desires I've found contained in those prayers and I think that's a very important thing to remember.
The soldiers today in Afghanistan and in Iraq are going through much the same sort of mental agility that soldiers of even the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, War of 1812, all other wars have gone through and that is to determine exactly what the future holds, what is life all about, and exactly how do they deal with their own mortality?
There were stories that jumped out at me your book on World War II. The first one being the meeting between Harry Hopkins and Churchill.
Well, Harry Hopkins who was a very close associate of President Roosevelt actually was asked by the president to fly to England, to meet with Winston Churchill because it became clear that England was facing some serious, serious problems with the onslaught from Germany and he needed to be able to have a firsthand account as to how close, England was to having to surrender.
What did he tell Churchill once the two of them met, once he realized how serious it was?
He made it clear that from that day forward that they were brothers and that he intended to tell the president of the United States just that. What I think is rather extraordinary is that the decision was made shortly after that trip that the president and Churchill had to meet. They had to meet and they had to do it secretly. It would not do the United States nor Britain well for the world to know that the United States was siding at that particular moment with England. And so it was decided that in the middle of the Atlantic not too far from New Finland that they would meet on the HMS Prince of Wales.
Well, it was for several days that they would meet and Churchill knew that they would be getting together on a Sunday. Well, he brought his chaplain in and he said look, let's have a prayer service. I'm Anglican, Roosevelt's Episcopalian, let's put together some prayers that are really gonna tug at his heartstrings. We need to make sure that the Americans are on our side and that we put together this Atlantic charge, this Atlantic alliance that will allow us to be able to get their support. And so it was an extraordinary moment in which the chaplain went to work. The prayer service was held on deck and Churchill in his memoirs later would talk about that moment as being one of the most touching moments that he had ever gone through in his life, but touching also because over half of the men who were standing in that photo would be killed during World War II.
How did Roosevelt react to this?
He loved it. He loved the notion that there was going to be a prayer service and he had only one request and that was that the navel hymn, Eternal Father Strong to Save, be played during the prayer service. And so there was no question that with or without that prayer service that the relationship between Roosevelt and Churchill, which at one time had been frosty when they first met during the years of World War I, had really been consolidated in a very, very important way.
And then of course Roosevelt himself later issues an important prayer. He chooses to address the nation after he's essentially signed up for the D-Day attack, knows what's coming, knows the consequences of this. What happened?
The rumors in regards to the D-Day Invasion had been circulating for a number of months. Roosevelt had been very much on top of every detail, every day of every week. Finally when the decision was made and he knew that the troops had landed on the beaches of Normandy it came time for him to be able to announce that the D-Day Invasion was, indeed, taking place. And so he chose to go on radio as he had done so often during the depression, but he decided that rather than giving some kind of commentary about what was happening, trying to somehow give, comfort in his own words as to what was transpiring, but knowing that at that moment that the causalities of our boys being killed on the shores were mounting to extraordinary highs. He brought in Robert Sherwood who would become a very famous Hollywood screenwriter and asked him to write the prayer, which, indeed, he did. And so Franklin Roosevelt went on the radio, simply read the prayer, which conveyed what was transpiring at Normandy at that moment, and simply ended it without any other words.
How about another famous American, General Patton. Why was he such a strong believer in the power of prayer?
George Patton will always be one of the great enigmatic figures in American history. People love to be able to share George Patton's stories, but when it came to not only spirituality, but to religiosity, Patton was a strong subscriber that God was an important force in the life of the world and in his own life. And there is an incredible story about how during the Battle of the Bulge after D-Day when we were on our way to Berlin for the final assault, the weather just could not have been more awful. It was Christmastime, even the tanks were mired in mud. And so he brought his chaplain in, a man by the name of O'Niel, a Catholic chaplain, and he said, "Chaplain, you've got to do me a favor. You've got to write a prayer that's going to be able to take care of this weather, allow us to be able to get back on track and continue our way to Berlin."
And so the chaplain went back to his room and rifled through everything he could possibly find and found nothing that was appropriate. And so he sat down and he wrote this prayer and handed it to General Patton. Patton then decided that he should put this as part of a Christmas card to all the men asking them to recite that prayer. And so that's exactly what happened. Literally tens of thousands of these were sent to members of the third army. And so all of the men send a prayer and, believe it or not, within a matter of hours the weather cleared and those tanks were able to get out of the mud and the troops were able to continue on into Berlin.
But I must tell you that on my book tour I came across an extraordinary moment in which there was a man in his early 80s who came up to me and asked me to to sign his book, and he appeared to me to be in his early 80s. And he said Mr. Moore, he said, this has been an extraordinary evening for me, a memorable evening that I simply won't forget. And - and I looked at him and I said please tell me why? And he had tears in his eyes. He said the way you told the story about how General Patton asked that prayer be written and how it came to pass, he said, you see, I was a member of General Patton's third army and I brought that prayer back with me in 1945 from the war and it's been sitting next to my bed ever since. And every time I say to myself it's not possible, I simply look at that prayer and I realize it is possible. And so he asked me to sign my name across the prayer and the book itself, and it was quite a memorable moment for me.
And just after all of these things have occurred we're getting close to the end of World War II and Roosevelt dies and Harry Truman finds himself president. Why does Harry Truman ask the country to pray for him?
Well, one has to remember that Harry Truman became almost by accident. His becoming the vice presidential candidate was a very iffy question. He was following a president who had actually been elected to office four times. And so here was a much beloved president who died just as the war in Europe was ending, but the war in Asia was continuing to rage on. He also was learning for the very first time that the Manhattan Project had developing the atomic bomb that ultimately would be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And so to all of a sudden find himself in this situation where the president of the United States has died, he is now confronted with all that he must deal with. It became really a moment in the life of a country and in the life of one man that really was truly extraordinary and he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders at that moment as indeed they were. And once again here was somebody who truly believed that he needed help. He couldn't do it himself. And so Harry Truman was one who had a prayer that he wrote himself that he said every single day of his life. He said it that day, as well as the next day, as well as the next day when he was president.
Did he pray once he's learned about the Manhattan Project and then later gave the order to use nuclear weapons?
I've had a chance to read his papers and to read a couple of autobiographies that he wrote. He doesn't really talk about his having prayed specifically, but how it weighed on his mind. Certainly with the daily prayer that he said it would have allowed him a chance to be able to sit back and to try to put all of this in some form, but it was a decision that was very difficult for him to make, but I think it's important and he certainly has emphasized the fact that once he made the decision there was no turning back.
When you get to the Vietnam War it's somewhat different. At World War II you've got a great unity which you don't have with Vietnam. So how does prayer factor in here both in the prayers of the soldiers that were fighting and the prayers of the people that are opposed to the military action? That division?
I think on the home front there were people dealing with the Vietnam War in different ways, and so their prayers came much in the way that they did in the Civil War, the north and the south believing that each was on the side of right. What I found fascinating was how the soldiers themselves dealt with prayer in Vietnam. John Kerry, for example, talks of how he had a rosary in his pocket at all times which he would turn to at moments when he wasn't engaged in some form of combat. I was delighted to be able to see that this book was provided in audio and the reason was, among other things, was the fact that I was able to have Senator John McCain actually come and read his own words on how important prayer had been to him to be able to endure the torture that he had come across when he was a prisoner of war. He talks about somehow his captors allowed him and his fellow prisoners to observe Christmas, and so together they put together prayers and hymns and it was a moment that, in his own words, was one of the most meaningful experiences in his entire life.
What conclusions did you research at the end of writing your book?
The single greatest conclusion that I came up with in this book was the fact that if it had not been for prayer that the social, religious, cultural, political, and even economic and military history of the United States would be far different than what it is today. And if, indeed, the United States has had an impact on world affairs, which it has for over the Century at least, then, indeed, world history has been affected by American prayer.
What I mean by that is this: There are just an incredible number of examples. When our Founding Fathers came together for the first time in September of 1774 they were trying to deal with a very serious problem. Not only did they not know one another, but they were beginning to hear rumors coming from Boston that homes were being bombarded by the British, the patriots. And so it was Samuel Adams who stood up and said there is only one way that we're going to be able to overcome so many of these divides, as well as try to deal with this intimidating foe and that is through prayer. And so, indeed, prayer became an integral part of every single session every day that that continental congress was held.
I think, for example, of Martin Luther King, Jr. just over 50 years ago when he took up the cause of Rosa Parks and was involved in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He went to bed, it was New Year's Eve, he went to bed early with his wife with his two-month-old baby nearby, and early in the morning he received a call from a white racist who told him if you don't get out of town and don't get out of town within the next few hours, you, your wife, and that new baby of yours is going to be killed. And so with that he very quietly hung up the receiver not to disturb his wife or child, walked into the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee, began to pray and say God, please take this cross away from me. It was one thing when I was a young man, hadn't had no responsibilities. I'm married, I've got a young child. Please find someone else to carry this torch. And if you will, God, please make me look not like a coward in the process.
Well, after praying even more he realized that he had to lead the Civil Rights Movement, that it was important, that God really did intend for him to take on this responsibility. And so one wonders if he had not prayed in what he would later refer to as his kitchen conversion how different would the history of Martin Luther King, Jr. had been and how truly different our own history would have been.
I'm going to play devil's advocate. You touched all of these examples in American history. But after all the British pray, Italians pray, Spanish pray, Germans pray, etc. What is distinct then about how Americans pray?
There is nothing distinct in the way that Americans pray, but I think that there is a distinction in terms of the depth and how widespread it is. Poll after poll taken both of the United States, as well as Canada and Europe will show consistently over the past 50 years that Americans pray in far greater numbers, in far greater depth, in far greater frequency than does anyone else. And so that's a very simple answer to that question.
What would you say your conclusions are as to what do most Americans actually pray for?
Well, I find that the two most popular prayers that people pray for in America are please, please, please and thank you, thank you, thank you. And the only reason why they pray the second one is so that they can return to the first one on a later date. I think it's a real misnomer to believe that 99.9% of the Americans who pray do so asking for favors. I think that there are a variety of reasons why Americans pray. They pray in adoration, they pray in penitence, they pray really for gratitude in addition for asking for certain favors. I think Americans really have a deep faith that is rooted from all the things that we've talked about and it will continue. This really and truly is a part of America's DNA. I decided in writing my book that I was not going to simply make it a static history or simply end with what's happening today, but I identified five young people all under the age of 30 who have extraordinary promising careers ahead of them who believe that prayer has been an integral force in their lives that has allowed them to actually proceed with these promising careers. For example, a wonderful young lady, who is the youngest Rhodes scholar in American history from Florida who believes that prayer was an integral part in her Hindu family. A wonderful nun who walked across this country talking about prayer and the importance of prayer who now is working among the homeless and unwed mothers in Harlem in the South Bronx. I found a Hasidic boxer in Flatbush, New York who is one of the most promising of his generation who prays every day very much in the Hasidic tradition. I found a wonderful Presbyterian who overcame all sorts of odds.
And so I think it's important to realize that we're really not talking just about the history of American prayer, but we're talking about a very rich phenomenon that has been a part of us, that is a part of us, and that will continue to be a part of us as long as we remain a republic.
America's a country with literally hundreds of religions. With all of those different religions, all of these different way one can conceptualize God, how can you say that it's prayer that unifies all of those things?
Well, first of all, let me say that the president who was single-handedly responsible for creating the richness, the diversity of prayer in America was Lyndon Johnson, and it was Johnson because he signed the Immigration Reform Bill that allowed far more people from the Middle East and from Asia to enter the United States than had ever been allowed into the United States before. And as a consequence we began to listen to the adverbs and the adjectives of others as they described their maker. I find that when I listen to the words of others as they are praying to God in their own way that it enhances my own faith because I find a description, a word, something that is used that gives me a unique perspective that I might not have had without them being there. And so when I get together with individuals who do not share my faith, including Christians, I realize that we are sharing one thing in common and that is the notion that we believe that we are not alone, that we believe that there is an all mighty, that we believe that we have a purpose in our lives, that we need to put our lives in some kind of perspective, and that, indeed, in our own ways we pray to be able to understand our own mortality and give ourselves usefulness. And so that's an important ingredient both, I think, for America, as well as for the rest of the world.
The most obvious question is the one I haven't asked you yet. What is prayer?
I thought it was very important at the beginning of the book to talk about what prayer is and, indeed, I believe that prayer is the invocation of meditation, of words to a higher being, to God, that can take the form of adoration, thanks giving, petition, penitence in some way. It is a way to convey the sense that we are not alone, that there is a higher power to whom we answer to and, indeed, that becomes the essence of prayer.
One of the stories that I enjoy so much is the one that was told when Lyndon Johnson invited the press core to his Texas ranch. And Bill Moyers at the time, who was an ordained Baptist minister and who is a well-known personality on PBS today, was his press secretary. And so when the press sat down for lunch, Lynden Johnson looked at Bill Moyers and naturally asked him if he would please say grace. And so Bill Moyers began to say grace only to have the president interrupt him and say Bill, speak up, we can't hear you to which Bill Moyers looked at him and said, "Mr. President, I wasn't talking to you."
And it's amazing how prayer also I think has entered our culture. When we talk about prayer we always know that God is going to get the better of us. I love the story that Allen King who used to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show talked about God talking to human beings and how there was one particular individual who was an annoyance. And he said God, I've got a question for you. And God said yes? He said God, what is a million years to you? Well, a million years is like a second. God, may I ask another question? Yes. What's that? God, what is a million dollars to you? Well, a million dollars is like a penny. Well, in that case, Lord, can I have a penny? Sure. In a second. He told that several times on the Ed Sullivan Show. I loved the line in the one-woman show of Lily Tomlin in which he said why is it that when we talk to God it's called prayer, but when God talks to us it's called schizophrenia?
There's just some wonderful, wonderful stories of ultimately how God gets the better of us. I love the one story that was told of the little girl - and this was really passed on from pulpit to pulpit - who had just taken a major test in school and she was on her way home wondering whether she had answered one of the questions correctly. And she didn't even say hello to her mother when she ran in the door, ran into her bedroom, closed the door, got onto her knees, and prayed dear, God, please let Cleveland be the capitol of Ohio.
Well, it's always wonderful to realize that culture has even pervaded prayer. Quite frankly you look at someone like Bill Cosby. He started his career with a wonderful, wonderful recording of Noah talking to God and building the ark and that really became the platform for his early success. And one story that is particularly funny is how Noah finally talks to God, he's been asking God a lot of questions over a long period of time in building this ark. He said God, I'm finished. I brought all these animals on board, but I've got a problem to which God says yes, Noah, what's the problem? Well, the last two animals I brought on are zebras. Yes, Noah. And they're both males. Would you do me a favor and zap the one and make sure it turns into a female? To which God responded now, Noah, you know I don't work that way. So there are wonderful, wonderful things that American culture has been able to grasp onto when it comes to talking about prayer.