Rea­gan on prayer: ‘I looked up in­stead of back’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

As pres­i­dent, Ron­ald Rea­gan is­sued a Na­tional Day of Prayer Procla­ma­tion ev­ery year of his eight years in the Oval Of­fice and in 1988, he signed into law the des­ig­na­tion of the first Thurs­day in May as the an­nual ob­ser­vance of the Na­tional Day of Prayer. Dur­ing this, Rea­gan’s cen­ten­nial year, we should re­mem­ber what this day meant to one of Amer­ica’s great­est pres­i­dents and why he took such pride in of­fi­cially rec­og­niz­ing its ob­ser­vance.

My first ex­am­ple: Ron­ald Rea­gan’s be­lief in the power of prayer.

I can well re­mem­ber a day dur­ing my ser­vice as as­sis­tant to the pres­i­dent for pub­lic li­ai­son when we were alone while wait­ing for the pres­i­dent to de­liver a speech. I said, “Mr. Pres­i­dent, I just have to ask, you have the weight of the world on your shoul­ders and yet you’re al­ways so gra­cious, so kind, so thought­ful of oth­ers. You’re never flus­tered or frus­trated. How in the world do you do it?”

He loved to rem­i­nisce and he leaned back in his chair and said, “Well, El­iz­a­beth, when I was gov­er­nor of Cal­i­for­nia, it seemed as if ev­ery day yet an­other cri­sis would be placed on my desk. I had the urge to hand it to some­one be­hind me to help me. One day I re­al­ized I was look­ing in the wrong direc­tion. I looked up in­stead of back and I’m still look­ing up. I couldn’t go an­other day in this of­fice if I didn’t know I could ask for God’s help and it would be given.”

That was Ron­ald Rea­gan. He was fond of a quote from Pres­i­dent Lin­coln, where our Civil War pres­i­dent said that of­ten­times, he was “driven to his knees” by the “over­whelm­ing con­vic­tion” that he had nowhere else to go.

One of Rea­gan’s fa­vorite im­ages was Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton pray­ing at Val­ley Forge, which Rea­gan called the “most sub­lime im­age in Amer­i­can his­tory.” “Wash­ing­ton kneel­ing in the snow,” said Rea­gan, “per­son­i­fied a peo­ple who knew it was not enough to de­pend on their own courage and good­ness; they must also seek help from God, their Fa­ther and their Pre­server.”

My sec­ond ex­am­ple of what the Na­tional Day of Prayer meant to Ron­ald Rea­gan was his be­lief in re­li­gious tol­er­ance and the ec­u­meni­cal na­ture of re­li­gion in Amer­ica.

This Protes­tant pres­i­dent in­cluded many de­vout Ro­man Catholics among his White House staff, chief for­eign-pol­icy ad­vis­ers and in­ti­mates. In fact, Ron­ald Rea­gan ap­pointed the first U.S. am­bas­sador to the Vat­i­can.

Con­sider, too, Rea­gan’s re­spect for the Jewish faith. This was ev­i­dent in his first pres­i­den­tial state­ment on Easter, in which he de­voted equal time to Easter and Passover.

He was deeply trou­bled by the re­fusal of the Soviet Union to al­low for Jewish em­i­gra­tion. The pres­i­dent car­ried in his jacket pocket a list of Jews held in Soviet prison camps. Ev­ery time he met with a Soviet rep­re­sen­ta­tive or when an ad­viser planned to do so, the list was pre­sented.

Speak­ing of that evil, the third ex­am­ple is Ron­ald Rea­gan’s time­less be­lief and op­ti­mism in how good can tri­umph over evil.

It was 30 years ago around this time, March 30, 1981, that Rea­gan, in of­fice merely a few weeks, was shot.

In the days to come, he shared an in­tense per­sonal spir­i­tual con­vic­tion re­gard­ing his sur­vival, but only with sources he knew to be de­voutly re­li­gious: Among them was New York’s Car­di­nal Ter­ence Cooke. It was Good Fri­day, April 1981, and Rea­gan sensed a feel­ing of re­birth. He was cer­tain his life had been spared for a spe­cial pur­pose. An aide sum­moned the car­di­nal to the White House. “The hand of God was upon you,” Cooke told Rea­gan. “I know,” a solemn Rea­gan replied. “I have de­cided that what­ever time I have left is for him.”

In that time left, Rea­gan dis­cerned a spe­cial pur­pose that struck at the epi­cen­ter of the battle against athe­is­tic Soviet com­mu­nism. He com­mit­ted him­self whole­heart­edly — body, mind and soul — to a peace­ful end to the Cold War and to a Soviet em­pire he un­der­stood as evil.

He com­mit­ted him­self to the great moral good of tak­ing down an em­pire in­fused by an ide­ol­ogy that killed tens of mil­lions of peo­ple world­wide in Rea­gan’s cen­tury.

In Rea­gan’s very first procla­ma­tion for the Na­tional Day of Prayer, 30 years ago, he said: “Prayer is to­day as pow­er­ful a force in our nation as it has ever been. We as a nation should never for­get this source of strength.” In­deed. And as Rea­gan al­ways signed off, God bless the United States of Amer­ica.

El­iz­a­beth Dole was sec­re­tary of trans­porta­tion and a mem­ber of the White House staff in the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion, sec­re­tary of la­bor in the Ge­orge H.W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, a U.S. sen­a­tor from North Carolina and pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Red Cross.

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