- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2009

It was six years ago this week that the Rev. Barry Black was appointed the 62nd chaplain to the U.S. Senate, bringing with him a trifecta of firsts - first black chaplain, first Seventh-day Adventist and first military chaplain to ascend to the post.

I caught him a few days ago in his office on the third floor of the Capitol; a marvelous piece of Senate real estate that overlooks the western terrace, where presidents are inaugurated.

“If you can’t pray for the nation with a view like this, you’ve got serious problems,” he jokes as we gaze over the sweep of manicured lawns on the National Mall to the Washington Monument less than 20 blocks away.

Mr. Black, 60, pastors what’s in effect a megachurch: 7,000 people including 100 senators, their employees and families. He leads five Bible studies a week, including one that attracts 200 people to a venue in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. He counsels, offers spiritual mentoring classes, officiates at prayer breakfasts and comes up with original prayers that open the daily Senate sessions.

When I ask him how he comes up with inspiration for all this output, he says he soaks himself in the Bible. When he jogs in the morning, he’s listening to Bible verses on tape. When he drives to work from his home in Woodbridge an hour away, he flicks on a Scripture CD.

“I don’t passively listen to them, I pray them,” he says of the biblical texts. “If something impresses me, I stop the CD player and talk to God about it.”

He also reads through all 66 books of the Bible several times a year and his conversation with me was sprinkled with Scriptural references.

“It’s a tonic and tool for sanctification,” he says of the holy book. “It’s an important part of my spiritual calisthenics.”

I ask him how his denominational affiliation affects his work. Adventists observe the Sabbath on Saturdays and Mr. Black’s family has the TV off that day. He also does not drink. A vegetarian, he patronizes the Sunflower restaurants in Falls Church and Vienna.

In his 2006 book, “From the Hood to the Hill,” he says a military colleague advised him to switch from his “oft-maligned religious tradition” to something more respectable and mainline Protestant.

“I don’t choose my church like an ice cream flavor,” he said at the time.

I ask him what he likes to read, and he pointed to a row of 50 “great books.”

“I love primary sources,” he says. “I love the stoicism. Epictetus has a little manual that is a marvelous treatise for Stoics,” referring to the Greek philosopher from the early second century B.C.

Anything else?

“William James,” he responds, referring to the late 19th century pragmatic philosopher. “I like old books.”

Here is someone who worked hard to get two doctorates, three master’s degrees and ascend to become an admiral and chief of Navy chaplains, the first black man to do so. He sprinkles anecdotes throughout his book on how maintaining self-control and paying attention to the little things in life made the difference in his career successes.

And fasting, he adds, is the major tool he recommends in terms of getting God to fast-track prayer requests.

“I believe that anything you passionately pursue from God,” he says, “you’ll eventually receive it from God in some form.”

Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at [email protected]

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