Public vs. Private

Shocking! According to an Associated Press article, “Israeli newspaper publishes Obama’s private prayer,” a prayer Obama reportedly left at Jerusalem’s Western Wall has been published in an Israeli newspaper.

Sure, we often shake our heads and say “nothing’s sacred anymore,” but I’m honestly surprised at this newspaper’s decision – and at the student of religion who retrieved it in the first place. Although the prayer is not confirmed as having belonged to Obama, the penmanship seems to match his hand from a note written earlier this week.

I’m a bit torn about writing on this story. Since the text of the prayer has been offered for public consumption, I can’t help but read it as a rhetorical artifact. And yet as I was writing a line-by-line analysis of the prayer, I slowly began to realize I was becoming more and more uncomfortable with my actions. The act of writing this post and giving the story more attention makes me complicit in publicizing an issue that should be ignored out of respect for an individual who just happens to be running for president, but my act of analyzing it would be even worse: It’s beyond the acts of, say, staring and shaking my head at celebrity gossip rags while standing in line at the grocery store and more like actually buying them. I hope my restraint here is adequate.

So I’ll skip the analysis and pose questions instead, which are based on my assumption that most people will believe Obama wrote the prayer: What will religious and non-religious people in the U.S. and abroad think of the prayer’s emphasis on the personal and familial for a person who hopes to oversee the wellbeing of an entire country and by extension other countries of the world as well? Does it help him that the whole world sees him asking for wisdom and for aid in remaining strong in the face of “pride and despair?” Or do such requests make him appear weak? What do they think of him asking to be an “instrument” in a time when many acts – both good and horrific – are performed in the name of religion?

I also wonder – again, assuming Obama is the author – how much of the prayer would have been composed with a larger readership in mind. I know it’s bad of me to ask such a question, but can a person in Obama’s position compose anything private and assume it will actually remain so?

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