A couple weeks back about a dozen Patch.com web sites conducted an online based on an article I originally wrote for Communities @WashingtonTimes.com about the health benefits of prayer. In response to the question “Is there a link between prayer and healing?” readers were given three choices:
• Absolutely. I've experienced it myself, and truly believe prayer helped my situation.
• I think it's a combination of good medicine and good prayer that will ultimately provide relief for many people.
• I respect those that pray, but I think medical procedures are what truly cure people.
As of this writing, just over 300 readers have voted, with 25% saying they believe prayer helps the healing process, 7% saying it’s a combination of factors, and the rest voting in favor of conventional medicine.
The mostly moderate comments that followed the poll came from all corners, including skeptics, true believers, and one person who thought there should have been a fourth choice for those who feel that “anyone who thinks that their prayers can effect someone’s health is divinely delusional!”
What I find most interesting about this conversation is that it centers around a word that no one, including me, took the time to define: prayer. Sure, it’s a concept we’re all familiar with, but also one that has about as many definitions as there are people on the planet.
I can almost guarantee that had the question been “Is there a link between thought and body?” the poll results would have been quite different. And yet, this is perhaps the simplest way I know of to define prayer; that is, as a spiritual practice (in my case, Christian) that involves a change of thought which results in a measurable change in my personal – including physical – well being. I also believe, and have seen, how this change of thought can impact the health of others who have asked me for this kind of help.
For me prayer is less divine intervention than it is spiritual infusion. In other words, it’s not about asking the Divine to do something He hasn’t already done but being willing – divinely inspired, if you will – to see things from a better, more spiritualized, perspective. And although this particular column is more about defining prayer than God, let me at least say that I don’t see God as someone or something residing in a particular location. For me God is a compassionate, all-powerful presence that’s available to one and all; a kind of divine principle, the ever-evolving understanding of which continues to have a very real impact on my life, including my health.
I would add that I consider the prayer that leads to this deeper understanding of God to be immensely reliable. This is not to say that my prayers – or those anyone else, for that matter – have been 100% effective. But the results I’ve experienced or personally witnessed in others have been consistent enough to convince me that there really is something to this thing we call “prayer,” even if we can’t all agree on how to define it.
Speaking of which, I’m curious to know how you define prayer. Not what you think of it but how you define it. (Feel free to leave your comments below). It’s possible that as we refine our definition, we’ll not only have a better, more universal, understanding of what prayer means, but also of how it works.
Eric Nelson is a Los Altos resident. His articles on consciousness and health have appeared in a number of local, regional, and national publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.