[This column appeared December 21, 2001 in The Oklahoman.]
The apostle Paul once urged that prayers be offered "on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity."
Hoping for "a tranquil and quiet life" in post-9-11 America, countless Americans have been praying for our wartime president. Hannah Ayers is one of them.
A 33-year-old mother of three who has very little interest in politics, the Oklahoma City woman has in fact been praying for the president and his family for more than a year. She has filled up 164 single-spaced pages in a prayer journal.
Here's part of her entry for September 8, three days before the attack: "Lord Jesus, I pray that You would watch over the Bush and Cheney families and keep them safe. Surround them with a hedge of protection and shield them from harm. I pray that no weapon formed against them shall prosper ... Safeguard their health and their lives. ... Guide President Bush and Vice President Cheney in the decisions they make. Give them knowledge and wisdom. ... Direct their footsteps according to your word. ..."
Recently in Washington, the president said he is grateful for the prayers of the people. His remarks came in a December 13 meeting with representatives from several state-based think tanks. In that meeting I observed firsthand why presidents, especially wartime presidents, need prayer.
I knew going in that the president was obviously under a great deal of pressure. Indeed, that very day he had released the infamous bin Laden videotape and had announced the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty. Still, I was surprised by his demeanor. When he entered Room 180 of the Old Executive Office Building, he was all business. He walked straight to the head of a large conference table and asked us to be seated. He sat down on the edge of his chair and leaned forward with his arms on the table, his fingers interlocked. There were no signs of his trademark Texas charm. He offered no welcoming remarks. The first words out of his mouth were: "So I was in the Rose Garden this morning announcing our withdrawal from the ABM treaty."
He went on to explain that since 9-11 the risk of a rogue-state missile attack is greater than ever, and that he intends to protect the U.S. homeland. He will not be bound by a treaty which prohibits us from developing a national missile defense. He talked for 25 minutes with no notes, mostly about the war.
As it happened, I was sitting in the first chair at the end of the conference table. From a distance of three feet, I was able to form a clear impression: This man is focused and intense. His countenance, his body language, and the content and delivery of his remarks all conspired to indicate that, though his task is burdensome, he is holding up. He has a sense of "mission" (his word), and he is clearly resolved to carry it out.
"It's a fateful thing for a president, and a country," he said.
As he got up to leave, the president wished us a Merry Christmas. He added (this isn't an exact quote but it's very close): Those of you who pray—thank you. Tell the people back home I am comforted. It is humbling that people would pray for me, and for our country. I feel those prayers. I'm not a very good poet, so I don't do a good job explaining this, but I am comforted by those prayers. Reporters ask me, what do you mean by that? I say, well, if you have to ask, you don't understand. I can't explain it, I just know that I'm comforted.
St. Paul called it "the peace of God, which passes understanding"—a supernatural, suprarational comfort which cannot be explained by a plain-talking Texan or anyone else. It's a peace Mrs. Ayers prayed for on September 8, when she interceded on behalf of the president and vice president: "Cause your peace which passes understanding to guard their hearts and minds."
It's a peace that comes this Christmas from the Prince of Peace. "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given ... and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace."
It's a peace you need when you're at war.