National Prayer Breakfast: Obama cites quest for humility, hope for goodwill

President Obama, addressing the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday for the fifth time in his tenure, was by turns humorous and personal, emphasizing the need to face vexing problems with humility.

Charles Dharapak/AP
President Obama, seen on screen, speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday for the fifth time in his tenure in Washington.

President Obama, in remarks by turns humorous and personal, emphasized the need to prolong a spirit of goodwill in Washington and to face vexing problems with humility, during an address at the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday morning.

Mr. Obama, speaking at the annual breakfast for the fifth time in his presidency, began with humorous remarks about his family, in response to an introduction by event co-chairman Sen. Mark Pryor (D) of Arkansas. “I thought he was going to talk about my gray hair," the president said. "It is true that my daughters are gorgeous. That's because my wife is gorgeous. And my goal is to improve my gene pool.”

Presidents and leaders of various faiths have been gathering for these breakfasts since 1953. Obama is the 10th in an unbroken line of presidents to attend. But, as he noted, the spirit of bipartisan goodwill apparent at the National Prayer Breakfasts tends to be short-lived.

The audience, who packed a ballroom at the Washington Hilton, laughed as Obama observed that “I do worry sometimes that as soon as we leave the prayer breakfast, everything we've been talking about the whole time at the prayer breakfast seems to be forgotten…. You'd like to think that the shelf life wasn't so short. But I go back to the Oval Office and I start watching the cable news networks and it's like we didn’t pray."

Speaking of faith, the president said it is “something that must be cultivated. Faith is not a possession. Faith is a process.”

At his inauguration in January, Obama took the oath of office with his hand on Bibles owned by Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “I thought about their humility, and how we don’t seem to live that out the way we should, every day, even when we give lip service to it,” he said.

In debates about “how we’re going to reduce our deficit, what kind of tax plans we’re going to have,” he argued, it is important to cultivate humility. “My hope is that humility, that that carries over every day, every moment. While God may reveal His plan to us in portions, the expanse of His plan is for God, and God alone, to understand.”

Searching the Scriptures helps in carrying out the burdens of his office, Obama said. “As president, sometimes I have to search for the words to console the inconsolable. Sometimes I search Scripture to determine how best to balance life as a president and as a husband and as a father."

According to a White House press pool report by Dallas Morning News Bureau Chief Todd Gillman, the president during his 19-minute speech used notes instead of a Teleprompter, as he usually does when addressing large audiences.

In addition to first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, the gathering included newly installed Secretary of State John Kerry, who sat at a table in the audience next to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi

The event ended on a bipartisan note with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama, the breakfast co-chair, saying to Obama, “Thank you for being my president.”

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