Yet another study on prayer
Recently, a good friend of mine sent me yet another ‘study’ on the efficacy of prayer; intercessory in particular. I have read a few of these ‘studies’ and they seem to contradict each other. We are into proving everything now. Even God is seen by many as just another ‘object’ in the universe. Part of the system and therefore should be able to be seen in some way that would prove that God does in fact exist. Or if not seen or perceived in a manner that can be validated by some form of testing; does not. Studies of this type really make no sense (well for me), though I of course find them interesting, especially if they back up my own pre-conceived beliefs.
I think there are too many variables involved, not least of all the beliefs that those doing the study hold. There is no such thing as an objective study, hence the reason that different test will come up with opposing conclusions. Also if prayer is based on relationship, then ‘no’ is really an answer. Though again I am not sure that last statement really deals with the nature of ones relationship with ultimate reality.
Prayer is about relationship, it is not a tool to get something done, though I do believe in intercessory prayer. I suppose these test make sense to some (for both believers and nonbelievers) because of a simplistic interpretation of certain scriptural text in the New Testament.
Of course the testing was done with subjects who were dying and no doubt (at least some of them) going through great physical and emotional suffering. For what better way to test the efficacy of prayer…. for we all fear death and disease. There are those who deny it, but that is usually said as an observer simply thinking about how they will react in some far off future (no matter what their age, if they do not spend much time thinking about such things) and not one who is actually going through the stages of disease, moving towards death. For in fact our last mile in this life could be perhaps the most important part of all. Peace can come but for the most part arrives after much work and a growing acceptance of the nature of our lives. Mainly that we are temporal and are moving towards something else and that our deaths are often messy and painful for all involved. Again, belief systems differ from one person to another, but our beliefs do give meaning to our lives and the more they are pondered and deepened, perhaps that will lend for many (there are of course no guarantees), an easier transition, when we each get the word that backs us into that final corner, the stark reality of our own personal mortality.
Perhaps the reason why these test miss the point is that it is easy to forget that we are pilgrims and how that reality is lived out depends on ones belief system. Which by the way are emotional at their root and the logical and rational discourse that can flow from these belief systems, is a way of trying to explain to oneself and to others the logical and rational reason for believing, say in God or not. One of the easiest things to do is to create a ‘straw man’ and then to demolish it. In others words make the opposing group all alike, while making those who agree with us, more intelligent, rational and able to think for them-selves.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks that the cup be removed from him, if it was the Fathers will, it was not, he suffered and died. As will we all. Perhaps life is not about the avoidance, but about the living out the deep mystery that we all are. If one believes that they are just meat and that their belief that they are ‘conscious’ is really an illusion, then yes I am not sure the process of death and dying, the final death to self has any meaning.
If life in fact is really a pilgrimage, well what does that mean? It certainly does not mean that we will have it easy. However, how we respond to reality is important and has deep spiritual significance…. for in fact what makes us more self aware seems to come about when we suffer. I wish it were otherwise, but it is not.
Life and all its ups and downs molds us, how we respond transforms us and from my own experience (subjective) leads me to believe that ultimate reality does desire relationship and our deep desire for love is ultimately only possible by the infinite. The problem is that there is a tendency to downplay the “otherness” of God, who for those on the Christian path is both immanent and transcendent. For me one without the other is absurd. God is not an observer but a participant in our lives. For the Christian that is what the incarnation is all about. Other paths will say it differently, but in the end there is a certain trust that needs to be developed towards that which calls out to the human heart for a response.
As Jesus said: “the sun falls on the just as well as the unjust”, what does that tell us about simplistic and even magical views of prayer. Life happens, there is no escape, yet we are not alone.
Biased yes, for I am a Christian so I don’t expect everyone or perhaps anyone to agree with me.