WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama is not an overtly religious man. He and his family rarely attend church, and he almost never elaborates in public about his own relationship to his Christian faith.
But far away from the public eye, his longtime advisers say, the president has carefully nurtured a sense of spirituality that has served as a grounding mechanism during turbulent times, when the obstacles to governing a deeply divided nation seem nearly insurmountable.
Every year on Aug. 4, the president's birthday, Obama convenes a group of pastors by phone to receive their prayers for him for the year to come. During the most challenging of times, prayer circles are organized with prominent religious figures.
And each morning for the past five years, before most of his aides even arrive at the White House, Obama has read a devotional written for him and sent to his BlackBerry, weaving together biblical scripture with reflections from literary figures like Maya Angelou and C.S. Lewis.
"I've certainly seen the president's faith grow in his time in office," said Joshua DuBois, an informal spiritual adviser to Obama who writes the devotionals and ran Obama's faith-based office until earlier this year. "When you cultivate your faith, it grows."
The image of Obama as someone who draws heavily on faith to guide his daily life contrasts with his public persona.
An intensely private person, Obama has shied away from all but the most general descriptions of his spiritual life.
"Sometimes I search scripture to determine how best to balance life as a president and as a husband and as a father," Obama said in February at the National Prayer Breakfast. "I often search for scripture to figure out how I can be a better man as well as a better president."
In his final years in office, Obama plans to continue with the morning meditations, the birthday call with pastors and ad hoc prayer circles, said a senior administration official, who wasn't authorized to comment by name on Obama's spiritual life and requested anonymity.
Privately, Obama also speaks to staff of being mindful of his own spiritual responsibility to the nation, the official said. In times of crisis, from devastating hurricanes to tragic school shootings, many Americans look to their president as a source of strength and comfort.
"This office tends to make a person pray more," Obama said last year in an interview with Cathedral Age magazine. "And as President Lincoln once said, 'I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.'"
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