The heat lawmakers are feeling over the government shutdown isn't coming just from their constituents. There are more heavenly forces at work, too.
The House and Senate begin each legislative day with a prayer led by their in-house chaplains, and with the shutdown entering its second week, those prayers are becoming more desperate, more urgent and more pointed.
“Let them not be content to wait and see what will happen, but give them the determination to make the right things happen,” Senate Chaplain Barry Black said on the eve of the shutdown.
When that prayer went unheeded, Black the next day prayed for politicians to find the strength to replace “cowardice with courage.”
As the shutdown wore on, Black's tone sounded more despondent.
“Have mercy on us, O God, and save us from this madness,” the chaplain said. “Remove the burdens of those who are the collateral damage of this government shutdown.”
The calls for divine intervention in the muddled, polarized debate over government funding and debt also echo in the House, where Chaplain Patrick Conroy asked God’s forgiveness for the ongoing government deadlock.
“Pardon us as we have missed the mark to this point,” Conroy prayed on the House floor after the shutdown. It was a line he borrowed from another chaplain’s prayers in Dec. 1995, during the last major government shutdown, Conroy told the Washington Examiner.
In just a matter of days, the shutdown took on an almost life-or-death feeling for Conroy, who implored House lawmakers to “serve a nation which, so many hope, will live beyond the current difficulties.”
Conroy said he prepares his daily prayers with an eye towards ensuring lawmakers understand their obligations.
“I try to construct a prayer that comes from religious tradition of the mindfulness of those who have power, that … the reason that power is given is because service is expected,” he said.
Whether it was the escalating prayerful scoldings or some other, more earthly force, the House over the weekend turned its attention toward the shutdown's impact on chaplains themselves, particularly military chaplains.
The House, so deeply divided over the pending fiscal issues, voted 400-1 to pass a bill urging Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to allow contracted military chaplains to perform their duties during the shutdown. It's unclear whether the Senate will take up the resolution. But the House's chaplain himself dismissed the gesture as a “show vote.”
“I certainly think that the government should be reopened," Conroy said. "I believe that we are a nation served by a government, and that government is not negotiable. The effect would be that the chaplains would be back on duty and that everyone else would be as well.”
Like millions of Americans, Conroy wants the shutdown resolved. But unlike many of those he serves in the House, he humbly admits his own limits.
“I have an opinion," he said, "but I don't know better than anyone else what the solution is.”