Headlines around the globe reported a recent scientific study conducted to determine the effects of prayer on patients undergoing a specific type of heart surgery (see The Christian Science Monitor, April 3).
Some of the headlines have been depressing for those like me who feel prayer has a vital role to play in healing: "If you want to get better, don't say a little prayer" (Mail & Guardian, South Africa); "Distant prayer has no effect on patients" (NewKerala.com, India); "Health Warning: Praying for the sick makes them feel even worse" (Scotsman, UK).
My own life may not amount to a scientific study, but it's enough to convince me what does and doesn't work.
Through years of positive experiences of the effects of prayer, I know that God heals as clearly as I know that the sun shines! Consequently, like multitudes around the globe, I don't need prayer studies to come up positive in order to convince me of God's healing love.
Negative results, though, may convince some who might otherwise explore a spiritual approach to healthcare and problem-solving to look away from God as a "very present help in trouble" (Ps. 46:1). I ache for anyone who might be deterred by the results of this well-meaning and well-publicized research project, conducted at six US medical centers.
I don't doubt that within the scientific framework in which they operate, the methods and ethics of those conducting the study have been impeccable. A significant question, though, for all kinds of prayer advocates, would have to be, "What kind of prayer was actually being tested?" Apart, perhaps, from those requested to do the praying, the general answer might be not mine!
From my own perspective, as one who bases his prayer on the model of the spiritual understanding of the master healer, Christ Jesus - as explained in Mary Baker Eddy's "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" - that not mine certainly resonates. In the decades I have known of Christian Science, I have found scientifically Christian prayer powerful enough to be employed instead of a medical process, not in support of it (which was the approach in the prayer study).
I have also found that this kind of prayer can heal at a distance (which was a major point the study investigated). "Science can heal the sick, who are absent from their healers, as well as those present, since space is no obstacle to Mind," explains "Science and Health" (p. 179).
I recently called a man 5,000 miles away for help through prayer when I was experiencing frightening internal pains that had been gaining in intensity and frequency over many months.
In requesting his prayers as a Christian Science practitioner, I was in effect inviting him to treat my thought through his spiritual understanding. In doing so, I was very clear how he would do this - from the standpoint of seeing me through the lens of God's view of me as His-Her innocent and perfect child. He would be affirming that this condition was neither created by God, nor would God allow His children to be subject to it.
Within a short time after my prayer request, the pains vanished without a trace.
In the case of the recent study, I can be grateful that scientists want to explore the potential of prayer. I can also see how the same boundless Mind that has healed so many over the centuries will find that well-meaning studies that conclude that prayer doesn't heal are no obstacle to communicating the good news to one and all of the curative power of scientific prayer.
O Lord my God,
I cried unto thee,
and thou hast healed me.
O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave:
thou hast kept me alive.
Psalms 30:2, 3