A Christian Science perspective.
Over the past decade I've seen a big shift in the study of mind and body. Numerous studies have indicated the power of spiritual qualities in health and well-being. Not surprisingly, scientists have been asking what it is about faith and prayer that makes this significant difference in our lives.
At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studies have been made of the brain activity of meditating Tibetan monks, though, as the Dalai Lama remarked during a public teaching in Madison: "Matter never created consciousness, and consciousness never created matter."
The challenge for scientists is how to ask the right questions and read the data. Where is the source of spiritual good? Is our access to it something we create, or is it more a matter of responding to what is already present?
The thought that prayer is helpful has been with us for a long time. The book of James says, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (5:16). My understanding of prayer is that it involves communion with the source of all good – a spiritual sense of life that comes from God. The effect of such prayer is healing and relieving.
Mary Baker Eddy opened her textbook of spiritual healing with these words: "The prayer that reforms the sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God, – a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 1).
In my own experience, just an awareness of the realness and presence of God, divine Love, has had a powerful effect. On one occasion, waking in the middle of the night in intense pain, I opened my Bible and read words that reminded me that spiritual power was the most basic and authoritative force there is (see Job, chapter 38). When I had that recognition, the pain and my fear of it were overshadowed by a feeling of God's divine presence.
So is prayer effectual? Absolutely! Is it because of the words we say or read? Only to the extent that they bring us home to the world behind those words – God's world, always present, wherever we are. As we respond to ever-present divine Love, we become, as the Apostle Paul put it, "the temple of the living God" (II Corinthians 6:16). The words are not the prayer – we are, when we are in accord with Spirit.
As Dr. Amit Sood of the Mayo Clinic remarked during an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio, it isn't positive thinking that we need to combat stress or its effects – it is "principle-based thinking." The "principles" he talked about – love, compassion, gratitude – are wholly spiritual.
As we respond with spiritual sense to God as divine Principle, Love, which is actually the source of all healing, we are able to perceive and express more good. Our prayer is a reflection of God's own love and is a force for good infinitely beyond anything we could devise with intellectual strategies or good intention. Unseen by the eye, unmeasurable by material sense, yet natural to all of us, God's ideas make the difference between stress and peace, sickness and health.