Monday, April 24, 2006

Power of Prayer? Or Not ...

I've had some time to think about prayer, here lately. I've kinda gone through the Berlitz course of personal philosophy and theology.

So, any conclusions?

I've had so many people who have prayed for us, and for Little Warrior. Literally, people around the world, since I have a former minister in Australia and a former brother-in-law in Prague adding their prayers to the mix. It felt good, all that focus and attention on Little Warrior.

Do I feel that the prayers are what saved her?


Do I feel a metaphysical God saved her?


Even as I type this, I feel a twinge of superstition. Am I calling for the forces of God to descend upon us, to disprove my belief? Will Little Warrior pay the price for my lack of faith?

I do not believe that. I cannot believe that. At the end of the day, I am a Universalist, not only in terms of universal salvation after death, but also universal salvation during life. If the force I call "God" is going to save one person from death, then that God would save every person from death. S/he doesn't.

I cannot reconcile the idea that the Force would be so capricious that it would only help those who receive prayers.

My father was supposed to be in artillery in the Korean War. Right before he was to be shipped over, he and my mother got in a car accident. Because of that, he wound up stateside, teaching in the Army Corps of Engineers.

His mama told him, "I knew you wouldn't have to go to Korea. It was because of my prayers."

This angered him so. "What about the boys whose mothers didn't pray? God didn't think they were worth it?"

The flip side of all this is just plain nasty. If prayer keeps one person alive, then when a child dies, that means that we didn't pray enough? Huh???

And then there's the science.

A few years ago, there was that famous study that "proved" that prayer actually heals people, even people who don't know they were being prayed for. Well, that study has been thoroughly refuted. Bad reporting, bad science, fake, fake, fake.

More recently, there was a study that proved it doesn't heal, and the people who knew they were being prayed for did worse. I'm not sure what to think about that, alyhough the "I didn't know I was so bad off you had to pray for me," thing has some logic.

So, do I think that there is no power in prayer?

Absolutely not.

I think there is tremendous power in prayer.

"But, but, but??? How can you say that, with what you wrote above????"

Here's the equation:

* Person praying for Little Warrior: the time taken to pray gives person the chance to focus on Little Warrior and feel sympathy towards her. This gives the praying person the feeling of doing something rather than being completely helpless (1 point), he lets me know he's praying for her, which gives me a warm feeling of community (1 point), and quite possibly, he then is a little warmer to those around him (1 point). If he is a Believer, then he also feels in contact with his version of The Divine (1 point), a feeling that takes him out of the world of shallow concerns and makes him feel there is a bigger purpose to it all.

* With the warm feeling of community inside me, I feel less alone, less depressed (point already awarded, above). This affects the way I treat all four of my children and my husband (5 points). This, in turn, affects how they interact with others, leading to more points. Then also, when I tell my children that so many people are thinking of us, praying for us, leads to their own feelings of community. More points.

A phrase that has been said or written to me many times is "we're lifting up Little Warrior and your family in prayer."

I LOVE that. Being lifted up in prayer -- doesn't it sound lovely? No directions for us -- none of the "Just remember, with God all things are possible," "Just remember to give it over to God," etc. No advice, no false reassurances. Just documenting what is being done. "We are lifting you up in prayer."

I feel lifted up in prayer.

To me, that is awesome power.


Anne said...

Okay..Im all caught up now. :)

That was a beautiful post. I have a hard time telling people that I am praying for them because sometimes I dont know how they will take it. I know that sometimes I dont like it when people tell me that. I think (after reading) that I like it less when it is attached to that advice stuff.

I hate "give it to the Lord" Like I should not fight? Like I am keeping this on purpose? Like I want it?

But yeah..sometimes..when you know that it is sincere..being told that someone is praying for you feel amazing.

So there..I will tell you. I pray for you and your family every day.

Anonymous said...

what a wierd coincidence... my friend in church told us during joys and concerns that a young (50's is young to us) father of her son's best friend died suddenly after 2 days in hospital- a series of horrible events tied to one another in a guy who had appeared healthy very recently (and lost his job Monday).

Luckily the son was visiting from college and was able to be at the hospital supporting his friend. After our UU church service Sunday, we all went out to lunch together and had a long discussion about prayer, as there was a lot of praying going on at the hospital. The college son talked about what he thought the prayer was doing/not doing and his thoughts were similar to what you expressed very eloquently. We had a good discussion about it, and I forwarded your segment on prayer to the family.

I hope you make it through your ministerial program and share what you have with the wider world. Any church would be happy to have you.

PS- I think you, your family, and your beautiful daughter had a lot of prayers out there, whether they told you or not.

The other way I use prayer is in a meditative way- to settle my mind when I can't relax or go to sleep. It is very calming. The Lord's Prayer is what I use. I spent enough years in protestant and catholic churches that it is a very peaceful statement to make at the end of the day.

I worry about my kids who are not being exposed to a ritual church wide prayer like that. Instead we have a church covenant. Not the same in my mind.

thanks for writing about this. great comments.