Near the end of a bumpy first year in office, President Obama readied for a Christmas vacation in Hawaii, but before he left, he called on a group of five ministers for a spiritual recharge.
Like previous prayer calls, this one was more personal than political.
"He certainly does not ask us how we would run the country and what issue to pursue or not pursue," said Bishop Charles Blake of the Los Angeles-based Church of God in Christ, who was on the phone last December.
For 10 minutes, the president and the pastors prayed for peace, an economic recovery, protection for U.S. soldiers, and for Obama to be guided by a wisdom and power beyond himself.
Glimpses into Obama's spiritual life have been rare since he became president. He split with his longtime Chicago pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, after the fiery minister nearly derailed Obama's campaign, and has not joined a church in Washington.
"Having been burned, for lack of a better word, during the campaign and early days of his administration, I would not be surprised that he would be rather discreet about any revelations of his religious life," Blake said.
Still, Obama continues to champion the role of faith in public life, frequently summoning the spirits of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and even St. Thomas Aquinas to frame his policies in moral terms.
Like previous presidents, he regularly seeks the counsel of longtime Washington insiders, including Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, Reform Rabbi David Saperstein and retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, to shape decisions about the Iraq war, health care reform and the economy.
But Obama has also turned to a group of fresh—and relatively unfamiliar—faces to manage religious issues in his administration. They are recalibrating America's engagement with Muslims, revamping the White House faith-based office and tending to the president's own soul. A year into Obama's presidency, each of the following seven people has become an essential member of what might be called his "spiritual cabinet."
His official title is director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Unofficially, Joshua DuBois is the administration's go-to guy for almost all things religious. He travels as Obama's roving ambassador to religious gatherings, connects the president with faith leaders for spiritual counsel, helps scout Washington churches for the first family, and handles the frequent media queries about Obama's faith.
Before stepping into politics, DuBois, 27, was a pastor at small Pentecostal church in Massachusetts, and his approach to the president bears traces of his former calling. DuBois sends daily devotionals to Obama's Blackberry—often a Bible verse or an excerpt from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, or a snippet from the works of theologians Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr, particular favorites of the president.
More publicly, DuBois is tasked with overhauling the White House faith-based office and managing its branches in 12 federal agencies. Under Obama, DuBois is steering the office away from the Bush administration's policy of direct funding to religious charities, and attempting to rescue it from charges that it improperly blends church and state.
When Denis McDonough was in eighth grade, he heard his older brother, a Catholic priest, deliver a homily entirely in Spanish. McDonough soon learned Spanish himself, and became an expert on bridging cultural gaps.