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Why I’ll Observe the National Day of Prayer This Year

America’s forefathers sought many opportunities for citizens to worship freely. This year, the White House, Congress and the nation come together in prayer on May 4

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Each night as a child in Missouri, my mother sat beside me before I fell asleep and asked, “Are you ready to say your prayers?” She proceeded to lead me in requests for God’s blessings before kissing me goodnight.

From time to time, after I moved to New York and began practicing law, my mother called to pray over the phone. She knew I no longer shared her exact beliefs. But for a few minutes, we ignored our differences and united our voices to seek divine guidance.

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When my mother’s newly detected cancer spread, and she chose hospice care, I rushed to her bedside. Early one morning as I read prayers from an iPad, something suddenly made me look up. I gazed at my mother. Her body was still. It was as if she’d simply floated away. 

Alone in my apartment, days after her burial, I searched my phone for the intercessions I’d recited for her. I repeated them and closed my eyes. Tears drenched my cheeks, but a profound sense of peace encapsulated me. The words made me feel my mother’s love and I knew I wouldn’t plunge into an inescapable grief. I had a lifeline and hope. 

The next morning on the subway, I read the prayers again. Increasingly, I found myself saying them and other unscripted intercessions. Each day, I sought God’s guidance and trusted I’d be led. 

I was far from alone with this routine. According to 2021 Pew Research, approximately 45 percent of American adults pray daily, while only 32 percent either “seldom or never pray.”

Today, all Americans, regardless of their daily practices, are invited by President Biden to pray and meditate on the 72nd annual National Day of Prayer (NDP). Although many Christian events often take place on the NDP, the day is not limited to any one faith but rather is an opportunity for all people of faith to come together in their common belief of a higher power. It’s a day when communities can unite through prayer and meditation. In the president’s proclamation last year, he reiterated what many presidents before him have said: Throughout our history as a country, prayer has been a source of strength and hope.

In 1775, during the Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress created the first NDP. Fourteen years later, George Washington issued the first proclamation for national prayer and thanksgiving. Other presidents designated various dates throughout history for citizens to pray. 

As the Cold War loomed, a joint resolution by Senate and Congress issued in 1952 called on President Truman to designate a specific date for the nation to pray. The resulting new law stated, “[T]hat the President shall set aside and proclaim a suitable day each year, other than a Sunday, as a National Day of Prayer, on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups and as individuals.” Every subsequent president made an annual NDP proclamation, and in 1988, Congress officially voted to make the first Thursday in May the NDP.

At the U.S. Capitol, in courthouses and city halls, and at many other locations NDP events are occurring today. In addition to the president, many governors also issue NDP proclamations, and some hold prayer breakfasts. Religious communities host prayer circles for their members and the general public. Interfaith and nondenominational events are held too. 

Over the years, controversy has followed the NDP as atheist groups objected.

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But the U.S. Court of Appeals 7th Circuit concluded in its 2011 decision in Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Obama that the NDP “imposes duties on the president alone. It does not require a private citizen to do anything.”

Many private citizens like me will spend time today in private prayer and meditation.

For me, today will be the first time that I unite in the spirit of the NDP. Although many years have passed since I last held my mother’s hand and sought God’s help for her, the daily practice of prayer she created for me continues. Each day after I meditate on bringing greater divine light into my life, I ask God for guidance. On this NDP, I’ll also ask God for peace in our country and across the globe. 

We can strengthen our day of prayer and meditation with a simple unifying action. If you choose to celebrate the NDP and exercise your freedom of religious expression, which has been an integral part of our country since its creation, share what you do online and use the hashtag #NationalDayofPrayer.

Share Your Experience: Is prayer an important part of your life? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

For more stories celebrating what's good in America, subscribe to the Experience Counts newsletter by clicking here.

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