The Power of Prayer

If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. ~ Lao Tzu

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. ~ Jill Jackson

Once again we are inundated with news of a terrorist bombing; this time in Brussels.  The world responds with sadness, anger, and prayers for peace; all of this happening during the Christian Holy Week.  Then, there is the backlash: “Prayers and flowers don’t work, do something real!”

Pardon me, but there are many of us throughout the world who believe in the power of prayer. We are not bible-hugging brainwashed imbeciles, contrary to what much of the media would have one believe. I myself am a great skeptic and a born-again cynic, but I believe in the power of prayer.

I believe because I’ve seen the results.  Prayer changes us, and thus prayer can change the world.  Perhaps those who cry for something more concrete are doing so because they feel powerless.  They’ve heard of miracle cures, but perhaps never saw the cure they thought they should see in a loved one.  Prayers are answered, but not always as we expect or even ask.

Epiphany bare altar

Holy Saturday at Epiphany

Prayers for healing may result in a miraculous bodily cure, which may or may not be assisted by medical intervention.  Or they may result in not the healing of the body, but the healing of the spirit – or the healing of an entire family, once broken, but drawn together in love once again.

Some of the more eye-opening answered prayers I’ve witnessed have been things such as Hurricane Lili in 2002 which suddenly slowed from a category 5 to a category 2 right before making landfall in south Louisiana.  Or my mom’s healing from an aneurysm that burst in her brain – which spontaneously healed up and quit bleeding.

“Oh yeah, do you think God’s gonna send a band of angels to fix this?” (Well, they do show up with the Armed Forces…) “What do you think prayer is going to do?”

What will prayer do?  If nothing else, prayer changes the one who practices it.  Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher and songwriter Jill Jackson were separated by 25 or so centuries, and both pointed out this basic truth: Peace begins with the individual.

“It’s not ME, it’s THEM.”  Yeah, I know. But I can’t change “them.”  I can, however, change myself, and prayer helps me.  Heck, even atheists say “be good for goodness’ sake.”  If you can’t, don’t, or won’t believe in a power greater than yourself, you can at least look at human nature and see the power of the group. Your own inner peace, your goodness for whatever reason, has a positive effect on the group(s) to which you belong.

How can our simple prayers, half a world away, change what is happening beyond our own community?  I could simply say “that’s where faith comes in.”  I know people who respond this way. I wish I could.

Cynic that I am, however, I have to let my brain chew things over.  So I pray, I think of the anger and hatred in the world, and open my heart, mind and spirit to the question of “what can I, one person, do?’

I look at the world around me and am moved to act.  My eyes are open.  These terror acts are tied up in the world of international relations, foreign policy, national defense…ah, and there’s an election this year. Some areas of our country have several races on their ballots.  I can become as informed as I possibly can be about the situations and the candidates, and make the best decision that I can.

I can rattle the phones and in-boxes of my elected representatives. I can get involved in local efforts to make a difference in my own community.  I can donate time and funds to causes I believe in. I can send cleaning supplies with a friend traveling to a flooded section of Louisiana, knowing through personal experience that even a small helping hand from a stranger can give one the strength to get through a disaster. I can join my voice to those of others in song, in prayer, in protest.

praying hands

Never doubt the power of prayer, and never doubt the power of shared intention.  You want a more concrete example?  How about fundraisers that ask a lot of people for just a dollar or two? My few bucks are just a drop in the bucket, but add that to a million people and that’s a huge, powerful bucket. I believe it’s the same with prayer.

This past Holy Week at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany has seen a dramatic increase in mid-week attendance. Last Sunday, and again at last night’s Good Friday service, Fr. Matt spoke about what one individual can do.  From the hyperactive media as a whole to individual citizens, we are asking the question “What can I do?” We are coming together in search for answers, sharing and growing the intention and desire for peace.

Lynn McTaggert, author and architect of The Intention Experiment, is one who has been experimenting with the effects of group intention.  Larry Dossey is a physician and author who has done extensive work with the efficacy of prayer as a healing modality.  These, and many others, are looking at nonphysical interventions such as prayer and meditation in a structured way – and finding what many of us know anecdotally to be true actually is demonstrable.  No one suggests that an ailing person abandon all medical intervention and rely on prayer alone, but prayer is a part of a multifaceted approach to healing.

It is the same when it comes to healing the world.  Whether we are hoping to heal the spirit, the body, or the world, prayer has an important place, if for no other reason than it helps peace to begin with me.

When you think about it, that’s really the only place that peace can begin.