The Senate Chaplain, Praying - One Prayer at a Time - for More 'Wisdom' on Capitol Hill

PHOTO: Senate Chaplain Barry Black is photographed in his Capitol office.PlayTom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images
WATCH U.S. Senate Chaplain: We Need a Prayer 'Now'

For one minute before the debate starts and the political posturing begins, there is 60 seconds of calm -- a prayer on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

The morning Senate prayer, a tradition dating back to 1789, is a pitch for civility and strength in a place perhaps best known for divisions.

Senate Chaplain Barry Black is the pitchman. His words of prayer are among the first words heard on the Senate floor each morning.

"This gives me an opportunity to intercede on behalf of the senators and to begin the day with a spiritual emphasis," Black said in an interview with ABC News from his office two floors above the Senate chamber, where he delivers his prayer each morning.

Setting the tone for the day in the Senate is no small task.

Black draws inspiration for his prayers from reading scripture each morning but also from everyday life, such as his four-mile run around the Tidal Basin and the blossoming cherry blossom trees in Washington.

"I then sit down and I rough it out," Black said.

He makes notes on little pieces of paper, and then transcribes to a computer later in the day.

"I want it to be indicative of where we are now, and so the prayer is revised based on the newness of the moment," he said. "And so always it will be tweaked and things will be added to make it fit in a tailor-made way of the day."

Black openly admits that the politics senators will be debating during the day ahead affects every word he writes.

"I am a part of the process, so I am affected by the challenges we face," Black said. "I think that many times the legislative process involves a game of chicken and you never know whether or not something that you feel is extremely important for the good of the nation, whether or not it's going to make it through the legislative process. And so I'm caught up in the suspense of that. I'm caught up in that cliffhanger. And I think many times it spills over into my prayer."

During the height of the debate over raising the debt ceiling last summer, Black made headlines. His prayers were specific to the impasse members of Congress were facing, and he added extra emphasis and urgency to his morning words in hopes that senators would listen.

"As our lawmakers face difficulties that test their power to the limit, shield them from cynicism and faintheartedness," went Black's July 27, 2011 prayer during the tensions of the debate. "May they not become weary in doing your will, knowing that they will reap your bountiful harvest if they faint not. Lord, as our nation faces the potentially catastrophic, inspire our lawmakers to seek your counsel, which will stand forever. "

"The debt ceiling was one of those moments where we just really didn't know," Black said, recalling the moment of writing the prayer last July. "But we did know that there were potentially grave consequences to this not happening. ... They were at a moment of extreme peril. I think that was what I was articulating."

While the negotiations were taking place and raising the temperature on Capitol Hill by the moment, Black said senators would seek him out and ask for him to include words about the political battle in his morning prayer.

"I have senators who actually solicit my prayer for specific matters and for specific issues," he said. "Now obviously many of those prayers are private but many times I will actually articulate in one of my morning prayers something that a senator has specifically requested that I pray for."

The contrast sometimes is stark. Often less than a minute after Black concludes his peaceful prayer on the Senate floor, the fighting and partisan posturing begins.

He doesn't take it personally.

"I see prayer in the laborious process of the legislative [branch] as planting seeds -- and you never know when the harvest is going to come, and you never know when the seeds will hit paydirt," he said. "It's about preference, trusting the process and believing that the lord of the harvest will have a bountiful harvest to come in."

While Congress may be best known for being polarizing, not for necessarily being inspired by prayer, Black disagreed. He sees a private side to senators, which he says gives him his faith in Congress.

"I don't think an issue comes up in the chamber that I don't speak to at least a couple of senators about the ethical dimensions, whether it's payroll tax, health care, defense of marriage. You know you're dealing with right vs. right." Black said. "So that gives me probably a lot more confidence and optimism about our lawmakers than most of the American public may have."

The position is nonpartisan. But Black has a regular stream of senators who will actively seek him out to ask about specific parts of legislation being voted on in Congress. And when he is asked, he'll tell senators exactly what he thinks.

"I am not expected to put my brain in neutral and just not have anything to say about it," he said. "From the public sphere, I hold my cards close to the chest. But when I am speaking privately with the senators, I tell them exactly how I feel."

Black knows with all the fighting, debate and posturing on Capitol Hill, his job is never really complete.

"I have more than enough material to pray with passion, fervor and specificity," Black said, "and if ever there was a time we needed prayer, it is now and it's on Capitol Hill."

Off the Senate floor, when asked what he prays for in his personal moments for the United States Senate, Black answered in one word: "wisdom."