Thursday, October 07, 2021

If you are on Facebook or a member of a church, you see or hear a lot of prayer requests. You might be one of great faith, little faith or no faith. You might be in a yoga pose, clutching your beads, or looking at today's request for the president.

Agnostics and atheists have studied prayer. And guess what? Prayer has been scientifically proven potent. Even I have difficulty believing the results (being a Christian I suppose I prefer my tradition to be the one that works).
Today I was reading Erling Olsen's book, "Meditations in the Book of Psalms," specifically Ps 86. He had a popular radio show during the Great Depression which was later turned into a book. He quoted and commented on the 1935 book, "Man, the unknown," by Dr. Alexis Carrel (still available in print and also in the Internet Archive in digital form). He says Carrel wasn't a Christian (don't know if he was of any faith family, being a scientist), but he wrote:

"Prayer should be understood, not as a mere mechanical recitation of formulas, but as a mystical elevation, an absorption of consciousness in the contemplation of a principle both permeating and transcending our world It is incomprehensible to philosophers and scientists, and inaccessible to them. But the simple seem to feel God as easily as the heat of the sun or the kindness of a friend." He goes on to say, "There is no need for the patient to pray or even to have any religious faith. It is sufficient that someone around him be in a state of prayer." He comments on the miraculous results he has seen in patients from TB to abscesses to cancer.
This reminds me of a double blind study I read back in the 80s that I've never forgotten. People of faith and unbelievers were assigned to pray a certain number of minutes a day for patients they didn't know, or even know what the problem was, or where they were. The researchers also didn't know who was matched with whom. But the patients who were prayed for had better outcomes.

So when you see or hear a frantic or sad message (or in the church bulletin) it's a comfort for the requester for you to dash off an emoji or "thinking of you" note, but also take a breath, slow down, and actually pray about the elderly parent, or accident of a friend, or a pregnancy in distress, or a financial problem. You don't have to be a believer, nor does the person in trouble. According to science.

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