Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Power Of Prayer

Does prayer’s power heal the sick, change lives, or fulfill our needs and desires? Should you bury a statue of Saint Joseph, if you want to sell your home, or put Saint Christopher on your dashboard as you travel this holiday season? There’s no definitive way to prove the power of prayer, but it’s not for lack of trying. Humans, including scientists, charlatans, and medical experts, have attempted to prove and disprove the efficacy of prayer since the beginning of intellectual curiosity.

The most surprising thing about these studies is that we’ve learned nothing. Some studies seem to show concentrated group prayer, whatever that is, has a measurable effect on AIDS patients. A decade ago, Dr. Elisabeth Targ’s famous double-blind research convinced some that AIDS patients who were prayed for lived longer than AIDS patients who were not prayed for by a controlled group of prayer-sayers. How do you control that?

Reading university studies is interesting, but confusing. Some show cardiac patients who believe in God do better than those who don’t. On the other hand, in a Harvard study, it looks like cardiac patients assured of receiving prayers of intercession didn’t fare as well as others, and Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, determined that if a king’s subjects prayed for him, the poor guy lived a shorter life than other kings.

Consider this: Studies aside, nearly everyone has stories of friends, family, and acquaintances that lived a miracle brought about by prayer or devotion. A widow accidentally drops her keepsake wedding ring in the ocean. She prays daily that she will find it. Years later, it turns up in the local fisherman’s catch. A missing child is inexplicably recovered when his whole community gathers to pray.

My husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness ten years ago. We prepared ourselves. We prayed a lot. He’s still around, and his medical team is astounded. He should not have had a positive outcome. There are thousands of stories of humans visited by angels – some of them seem inarguable. We can’t get enough of George’s angel in It’s a Wonderful Life, and books about causing change through prayer fill the bookstores’ shelves.

You can drive yourself to distraction Googling for answers on whether prayer has power or can effect change. The Online Surgical Technicians Course has a comprehensive list of formal, rigorous, scientific studies. You can find first-hand prayer testimonials on the Experience Project Web site and, I dare say, all over the Web.

Maybe the most rational conclusion was drawn by Wendy Cadge from the sociology department of Brandeis University, Massachusetts. An expert on how religion and medicine impact each other in today’s American culture, Cage remarked, “With double-blind clinical trials, scientists tried their best to study something that may be beyond their best tools; and [this] reflects more about them and their assumptions than about whether prayer works.”

The question isn’t complicated. The answer doesn’t lie in studies funded by millions of tax dollars. If you attend to your spiritual growth, you will have a relationship with your personal mode of prayer and with your higher power. When your devotion is honest and sincere – prayer can smooth out rough areas and improve the quality of your life.

Believe in miracles.