Just after the clock struck 10 p.m. Tuesday in Chicago's Grant Park, and Wolf Blitzer's voice boomed across the Obama election night rally announcing that the junior senator from Illinois would, indeed, become the 44th president of the United States, almost everyone (including many members of the press corps) cheered.
Then a lot of people cried.
Many hugged strangers.
More than a few danced.
And then . . . a whole lot of us began to pray.
When the euphoria of the moment of victory began to dial down, a sense of stunned sobriety -- as in Oh-my-God-did-this-really-just-happen-somebody-pinch-me -- spread through parts of the crowd, as a clergyman strode across the floodlit stage to the microphone.
Bishop Philip R. Cousin, an African Methodist Episcopal minister and former president of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, offered an eloquent prayer for the minutes-new president-elect.
"God of love and mercy and justice and peace, we come now acknowledging your majesty and your goodness and your kindness for our nation, having met the urgency of now and bringing one who will lead us across the lines which have divided us so long," Cousin prayed. "Give to us a new hope. We pray for President-elect Barack Obama. Give him the graces he needs."
"The graces of kindness and gentleness. The graces of a spirit of sensitivity that will enable him to reach across the lines which have divided and split our nation and bring wholeness and healing to the broken places in our national life. Endow him with an unshakable spirit. Lift him when his spirits are low and anchor him in a grace and a goodness that no world affair could shake nor tumble."
Cousin went on to pray for Michelle Obama and the Obamas' children, Sasha and Malia, and for the whole Obama family as they mourn the loss of the president-elect's beloved grandmother, Madelyn "Toot" Dunham the Sunday before the election.
And Cousin prayed for our nation, that "things which would keep us apart would be cast into the sea of forgetfulness . . . that we might have the courage and the motivation to follow this courageous man who has presented himself, recognizing the urgency of now, and filling us with a hope."
The bishop prayed that our nation would be transformed into a society "where rights can become the order of the day and wrongs pushed aside; where justice will roll down like a mighty stream, and equity and justice will flow from one end of our land to the other and where we might be the beacon light on the hill of joy for all nations to see."
Cousin's prayer set the tone for Obama's sober acceptance speech, where he said, in part, "America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. . . . This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment."
At that moment, I was praying for our new president. Praying that God would keep him safe from harm. Praying that he would have strength -- physically, mentally, spiritually -- to tackle the enormous task before him. Praying that this moment would be a watershed and that his presidency would be a catalyst for the healing of a nation.
I've no doubt that President-elect Obama has been surrounded by prayer not only during what felt like a marathon campaign, but throughout his lifetime. I'm sure Toot prayed for him. I'm sure his step-grandmother Sarah in Kenya is praying for him even now. I know my own mother prays for him, and millions of other people's mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunties and uncles.
This Sunday in my home church, as we do each week, the congregation will pray for our political leaders. For George and Rod and Rich and... I'm certain... for Barack and Joe.
Today, I'm in Aspen, Colo., where more than 150 religious leaders from the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Indigenous, Jewish, Sufi Muslim, Taoist and Confucian traditions are gathering over the weekend to pray for our nation, for the president and for the future of the planet. They're trying to find common ground and speak with one voice as people of all faiths and none. They hope to accomplish their ambitious goals through face-to-face conversations and by sharing the silences.
Those moments of quiet contemplation and prayer.
Call it "subtle activism" (to borrow a phrase from David Nicol who wrote about spiritual power and social change in the August edition of Tikkun magazine.)
Bishop Cousin knows the power of prayer. So does President-elect Obama.
Prayer doesn't necessarily change God, but it has the power to transform our hearts and minds.
In that vein, I'd like to offer a few prayers of my own for the president-elect:
May he walk in love.
May he know the joy of seeing bridges built, wounds healed and war ended; of being physically present in his daughters' lives and in his marriage, and of playing basketball with old friends.
May he have the peace that surpasses all understanding.
May he be blessed with longsuffering when faced with hate, bigotry, intolerance, violence, corruption, and the seemingly immovable.
May he act with kindness and be treated kindly in return.
May he have the goodness to turn the other cheek, and the wisdom to act.
May he have the faithfulness to keep his promises -- to the nation, to his family, to himself, to his Creator.
May he continue to have a gentleness of spirit that chooses grace over pride.
And may he have the discipline to do all he must do without jeopardizing his health, his conscience or his soul.
Cathleen Falsani is religion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and author of the new book, Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace.