Published February 04, 2011
As National Prayer Breakfasts go, the 59th annual event this year was probably one of the most emotional and personal in a long while. From the Chilean miner, to the keynote speaker (President Obama)... and finally wrapping up with Mark Kelly, the husband of wounded Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
More than a few of the four thousand or so in attendance dabbed at tears that unexpectedly appeared.
The breakfast has always been about coming together and celebrating shared values. Sponsored by the House and Senate bipartisan prayer groups, it's supposed to be relational where everyone is equal. A statesman from Austria may sit alongside a housewife from Atlanta.
But sometimes the relationships can become perfunctory, with more networking than knee bending; sort of like getting on the faith bandwagon because it serves a prosperous purpose.
But this year was different.
Yes, there were shout outs to the concerns of the day; the violence in Egypt, the growing tensions in the Middle East and the obligatory 'can't we all get along.'
But then there was Jose Enriquez, who told his story of how he and his 32 fellow Chilean miners prayed and worshipped God everyday of their ordeal trapped for 69 days in a collapsed mine. It was easy to feel humbled in the face of this faith.
Enriquez said through his interpreter, "The first 17 days were the worse because of no contact with the outside world.... But we kept preaching the word of God."
He talked about how God had reconciled them to each other, how in their greatest desperation, they realized that only reliance on God could save them. There was not a hint of political punditry.
And then Enriquez talked of the greatest miracle, the second drill that made its way to them, and the small bibles sent down the opening, one bible for each man, with his name printed on it.
He told of how later when the capsule made its way to them nearly assuring their safety... that before one man got inside, they all first got down on their knees to pray again, thanking God for seeing them through.
It would've been hard to top that story or even equal it. But a master storyteller was up to the task.
Randall Wallace, screenwriter of "Braveheart" and "Secretariat," delivered the keynote message. He almost seemed to give a summation narrative of the Chilean miners' epic saga.
In talking about his own struggles he drove home the point that prayer is a way for us to come face to face with "the truth of our weakness."
The president, too, talked of his personal faith, more so than he's ever done before. He may have been trying to clear the air after a Pew Poll last summer showed an increasing number of Americans, 43 percent, were unsure what religion Obama practiced... and that 18 percent thought he was a Muslim.
But Thursday Mr. Obama took the opportunity to make it plainly known that, "I have come to know Jesus Christ for myself."
It was the most the president has ever talked about what he believes, and how that belief informs his public and personal life, saying that he tries daily to walk closer with God and "make that God my first and most important task."
And though it might have seemed to some a political strategy, especially after his plea for health care, affordable housing and a few other legislative positions... Mr. Obama expressed sentiments for which he, like all of us, would be held accountable. The least of which, is to a political constituency.
The political game changer though was Capt. Mark Kelly, who gave the closing prayer. Kelly is the husband of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded Jan. 8 in a shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that left six others dead. It was a tragedy that the country is still reeling from and for which families are still grieving.
Although Kelly's words were aimed at bringing hope for him and the other victims’ family members, it also could ring true for this annual event, that takes place in a town more used to political in-fighting than faith building: "Maybe something good can come from this."
Lauren Green is chief religion correspondent for Fox News.