How a daily prayer practice carried one man through war, racial injustice, and beyond
“Who’s your favorite superhero, Daddy?” This was the question my Spider-Man-obsessed 7-year-old son asked me during lunch recently.
Being an educator, I thought about the critical intelligence of superheroes such as Iron Man, Shuri, or Batman. Superman ranks high on my list. It’s also hard to ignore Black Panther with his excellent haircut and undeniable cool.
But no matter how much I tried to remain in a fictional universe, my mind kept replaying the image of someone unfamiliar to most comic book fans.
My favorite superhero is a retired newspaperman from Raleigh, North Carolina. His name is John Curtis Washington.
Mr. Washington cannot leap over a tall building in a single bound, yet he has proven his ability to soar. He cannot see through walls, but he has a history of moral vision and ethical clarity. Mr. Washington does not derive his superpowers from outer space or from any hidden, high-tech lab. Instead, his strength, moral courage, and commitment to justice come from his daily scriptural devotions.
One Man’s Daily Prayer Practice
For the past seven decades, John Washington has started each day with a prayer on his lips and a copy of Daily Word on his lap.
Born in 1924, John Washington lived the majority of his life battling the real-life villain of racial injustice known as Jim Crow. At every turn, the kryptonite of segregation sought to deny his dignity and undercut his humanity.
“Colored Only” signs and backdoor entrances mocked him in public. The fear of being unable to protect his daughters from the dangers tied to systemic racism hounded him in private. And despite serving his country in World War II—just as his father served in the Great War before him—victory over fascism abroad did not mean equal rights at home.
For African Americans of his generation, the right to vote and to live where and love whom they wanted remained an elusive dream.
Relying on Sacred Scripture and Daily Affirmation
Nevertheless, like so many valiant heroes in American history, Mr. Washington found the strength to cope and fight. Daily positive affirmations in the face of negative realities provided him with the power to persevere. Sacred scripture coupled with Daily Word encouraged him to pursue “an America as good as its promise,” to quote the late U.S. congresswoman Barbara Jordan.
Consider how the changing contours of American culture undoubtedly shaped his prayer life and daily devotions. Society tried to teach him that the color of his skin made him inferior. The Book of Genesis taught him that we are each made in the imago Dei (image of God) and we are all spiritual siblings (Genesis 1:26-28).
My grandfather, John Curtis Washington, believes we all have the capacity to be superheroes. It’s just a matter of tapping in to the power of God’s love and God’s compassion.
Though some thought social protest to be a futile exercise, Mr. Washington read the words of the prophet Isaiah, “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17).
How could he say he loved a God we cannot see, and ignore the suffering of those he saw every day? (1 John 4:20)
Of course, this willingness to seek equality of opportunity put him and his family at risk. Yet he read the words of Moses encouraging the children of Israel: “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
These are just a few of the affirmations, prayers, and scriptures Mr. Washington has recited in more than 25,000 consecutive days of devotions. Affirmations that speak of human dignity and equality. Prayers that animate us all to serve others with grace and generosity. And scriptures that speak powerfully of a God who cares about the least, the lonely, and the left behind.
Mr. Washington’s world today is much different.
At 95, he spends most of his time on the front porch of his birth home, a former tobacco farm. He loves to reflect on how much our nation has progressed since he was a boy while considering the challenges that subsequent generations must face.
He is still praying. He is always reading his Daily Word and reciting his positive declarations.
I imagine one of his affirmative prayers is that one day his 7-year-old great-grandson will approach his own daily devotion with the passion that he now has for Spider-Man.
Indeed, my grandfather, John Curtis Washington, believes we all have the capacity to be superheroes. It’s just a matter of tapping in to the power of God’s love and God’s compassion.
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