Today is Inauguration Day. At noon, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States in a tradition stretching back to Franklin Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937.
Although there’s a lot of history around presidential inaugurations, the only part of the ceremony required by the Constitution is the presidential oath of office. The oath is traditionally administered by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, but not always. In 1881, a New York Supreme Court judge named John Brady administered the oath to Chester Arthur in Arthur’s living room following the death of President James Garfield.
In addition to fixing the time of the inaugural at noon sharp, FDR’s second inauguration introduced prayers into the inauguration ceremony. So, for our inspiration today, we’re taking a look at the invocational prayer at Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013.
It was a prayer delivered by Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of murdered civil rights leader, Medger Evers. After Medgers’ murder in 1963, Myrlie moved to California, earned a college degree and became a civil rights leader in her own right. She was the first woman and the first lay person to have the honor of leading the invocation at a presidential inauguration. Here’s an excerpt from her prayer that day.
EXCERPT FROM THE INVOCATION AT THE
OBAMA 2013 PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION
By Myrlie Evers-Williams
As we sing the words of belief, “this is my country,” let us act upon the meaning that everyone is included. May the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of every woman, man, boy and girl be honored. May all your people, especially the least of these, flourish in our blessed nation.
… They are a great cloud of witnesses unseen by the naked eye but all around us thankful that their living was not in vain. For every mountain you gave us the strength to climb. Your grace is pleaded to continue that climb for America and the world.
… Bless our families all across this nation. We thank you for this opportunity of prayer to strengthen us for the journey through the days that lie ahead. We invoke the prayers of our grandmothers, who taught us to pray, ‘God make me a blessing.’ Let their spirit guide us as we claim the spirit of old.
FOR ADDITIONAL READING: See Myrlie Evers’ book, For Us, the Living.
More inspirational nuggets for today:
- Joe Biden’s road to the presidency has been a long one. He was born in 1942 in Scranton, Pennsylvania to a middle-class Irish family. Thirty years later, he was elected the junior senator from Delaware. But before he was sworn in, his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident while Christmas shopping. His two sons were seriously injured in the crash and Biden initially considered resigning to take care of them. But he was talked out of it by the Senate majority leader and was re-elected six times. When Biden takes the oath of office, a Catholic will occupy the White House for only the second time in history. He attends mass every Sunday and carries his son, Beau’s, rosary in his pocket. But more importantly, his faith fundamentally influences the way he views the world. In August, Biden said:
“Like so many people, my faith has been the bedrock foundation of my life. It’s provided me comfort in moments of loss and tragedy, it’s kept me grounded and humbled in times of triumph and joy … And in this moment of darkness for our country — of pain, of division, and of sickness for so many Americans — my faith has been a guiding light for me and a constant reminder of the fundamental dignity and humanity that God has bestowed upon all of us.”
- In addition to being the first woman and first person of color to hold the vice presidency, Kamala Harris will also break new religious ground when she’s sworn in today. She considers herself a Black Baptist, but she was raised in Christianity and Hinduism, and her husband, Doug Emhoff, is Jewish. In a nod to her mother’s Hindu roots, her name, Kamala, is the Sanskrit word for “lotus.” Speaking at a drive-in church service in Detroit last fall, Harris said:
“For me, the church has always been a source of strength and a place for reflection. And in my private conversations with God, I usually ask for strength and protection and guidance to do the right thing … We must live it in our actions. That’s the kind of faith I was taught early on.”
Amen, Madam Vice President. And that’s A Spiritual Almanac for this Inauguration Day.
Be kind, take good care and we’ll see you soon.
Excerpt from Myrlie Evers-Williams invocation prayer at Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2013. Fair use.
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