WASHINGTON — As the stalemate over raising the federal debt ceiling dragged into Sunday, Senate Chaplain Barry Black called upon a higher power to help break the logjam.
"Save us, O God, for the waters are coming in upon us," Black said in his prayer that opened the Senate's session. "We are weak from the struggle. Tempted to throw in the towel. But quitting is not an option."
He concluded: "You are our strength and shield, and out hearts can safely trust in you. Save your people and bless their inheritance."
Black, a retired Navy rear admiral and former Navy chief of chaplains, has been the Senate's chaplain since 2003. He is the Senate's first African-American chaplain and the first Seventh Day Adventist to hold the position.
Perhaps with the exception of the heated debate over revamping the nation's health care system, Black said he's never seen a more difficult time on Capitol Hill.
"I can't think of a time when more was at stake," he said.
The pointed sense of urgency reflected in Black's opening prayers has grown as the debt ceiling crisis lurches along in both houses of Congress, making domestic and international financial markets nervous as Tuesday's deadline for the United States to raise its debt limit or risk defaulting on its loan obligations.
"We're obviously facing some very challenging times," Black said. "If you've heard my prayers in the last few days, they've increased in intensity. My prayer reflects the environment on Capitol Hill."
Black said that intensity is also reflected in the telephone calls his office has received and in comments from lawmakers who knock on his door to chat or ask for spiritual advice.
Prayer has already been in the spotlight during the heated debt ceiling debate. Last Thursday, several conservative Republican members of South Carolina's House delegation retreated to the House chapel to pray for guidance after Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, tried to persuade them to support his two-stage plan to raise the debt ceiling and cut spending.
"They're human beings," Black said of congressional lawmakers, "and obviously when we are faced with the reality of the limitations of our resources, we look towards divine resources."
Prayer is a regular routine for several senators. Black said a bipartisan group of about 25 get together to pray on Wednesdays, and another 25 or so participate in a Bible study group that he holds on Thursdays.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY