So what, asks a friend of mine, should he do about Facebook requests of this nature: “I had thyroid surgery yesterday at UAB. Please pray that it will be benign.”
“As an agnostic, I don’t believe that prayer works, ” my friend told me. “It certainly does not seem to work for cancer patients, unless we are praying for the wrong things. Any brief thoughts on this?”
He himself has had some thoughts on prayer, he said.
He’s followed with interest the studies that seem to indicate that negative thoughts from one person or a group of people can rob others in the same room of energy. He’s seen other studies indicating that positive thoughts from an individual or group can increase energy in those around them. Social scientists now tell us that moods are more contagious than the mumps.
“Is that how prayer works?” he asked.
The older I get, as my dad used to say, the less I know. So my list of what I know about prayer – a list that my friend’s good question provoked – is pretty short, but perhaps worth considering as so many communities hold prayer vigils in response to this week’s violence in Boston and sorrow in Texas.
Here’s my interconnected list of:
Eight Things I Know For Sure about Prayer:
1. God / the energy of the universe that binds us all together is not a vending machine, but does appear to be magnificently benevolent and generous.
2. Various studies have “proved” for, but also “against” the efficacy of prayer (as tested on hospital patients who didn’t know they were being prayed for); — but:
3. Some stuff lies beyond calculation.
4. Perhaps even better than praying – though it may well be prayer in action – is taking a pot of homemade soup and a piece of my day to spend time with someone who is tangled in a situation that needs healing.
5. When someone asks for prayer, they are recruiting a community to cheer for them. I kind of see praying for someone a little like rooting for a football team – and:
6. I think it’s good for me to spend some quiet time most days remembering people in need and what needs to change in the universe; — because:
7. If anything is going to change for the good on Earth, it’s certain that, God or no God, we humans have got to be part of making that happen; – and that said:
8. Miracles still happen.
So, even if I were an atheist (which most days I’m not), when someone asks for prayers, I can always honestly answer: “I’ll be holding you in my thoughts” or “Sending you energy.” And if someone tells me they’re praying for me, even if I were atheist, I can, therefore, always answer honestly: Thank you.
If there’s praying going on – whether by people of my own faith or another faith – count me in.
Kay Campbell reports on religion for The Huntsville Times and al.com. Her commentaries were named best in the country in 2011 by the Religion Newswriters Association. She can be reached at KCampbell@al.com and on Twitter @KayTimes.