Some, no doubt, recoiled at President Bush's call for a National Day of Prayer. At such times, old fears surface. Feelings of persecution emerge. For some, a call to prayer can feel more divisive than unifying.
Still, we urge everyone — Christian, Muslim, believer and non-believer — to look beyond individual concerns and embrace the spirit of such a call. Any abyss can be crossed when people are willing to bend.
The president himself succinctly summarized the need for reflection during a service Friday in Washington National Cathedral.
"On this Day of Prayer and Remembrance, our nation remains in the shadow of a storm that departed two weeks ago," he said. "We're humbled by the vast and indifferent might of nature, and feel small beside its power. We commend the departed to God. We mourn with those who mourn, and we ask for strength in the work ahead."
In that spirit, we urge people of faith to look for guidance and try to find a vision larger than themselves. As in Revolutionary War days, Americans must hang together or hang separately. We urge those who don't harbor notions of transcendence to refill the emotional tanks, contemplate the past and meditate on the future. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, every day should be a day of reflection.
Natural disasters, the ravages of war, rising costs and political restlessness have all taken a toll on the American psyche these past few months. The mood of the nation, in fact, is mirrored in Paul Simon's song "American Tune":
I don't know a soul who's not been battered
I don't have a friend who feels at ease.
I don't know a dream that's not been shattered
Or driven to its knees.
Still, the song also concludes with the lines, "It's all right" and "I'm just trying to get some rest."
In his speech to the nation Thursday night from New Orleans, President Bush tried to cast some light onto these dark times. And he did it in a traditionally Republican way: urging individual contributions of money and time, stressing personal initiative and trying to buck up the spirits of the downtrodden with a shot of can-do optimism.
But such values are not just Republican values; they are also true American values. A call to service and concern is a call every American can understand.
We should not only be asking God what he can do to help, or even ask what the government should do. We should also contemplate what we, as individuals, can do.