Published in The Quest magazine of Summer, 1990 was an article by Dr. Larry Dossey, M.D. on the healing power of prayer. Being excerpts from his book Recovering the Soul: A Scientific and Spiritual Search, it began with these words:
"Prayer has long been held by most religious traditions to contain potent healing power and has a long and honored history as a form of intervention in illness. Yet it has never been recognized in orthodox medicine as anything more than superstition - something that can’t hurt, but that can’t help much either. But ‘prayer researchers’ have surfaced in medicine today."
The article went on to describe an experiment by cardiologist Dr. Randolph Byrd at the coronary care center in San Francisco General Hospital, involving a double-blind study of 393 patients. The results were striking in favor of the power of prayer, but some people found fault with the study - to be expected, since many people would have their materialistic paradigms shattered by having to accept the idea that there is some kind of universal and free force that we can somehow call to action just by an effort of our own minds. The study was also criticized for not having adequate controls. Are there any discoverable laws involved in prayer? Why does the Bible tell us to pray? Are mere mortals in a position to cause God to change his/her mind?
In the Bible there are "authoritative" statements leading us to believe that the entire universe is governed by law. For example there is a statement attributed to Jesus: "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matt. 5:18). What theosophists and others call the law of karma is taught in the Bible to a detail that is surprising to most people. I once heard a preacher at Bob Jones University, speaking on the radio to students in their chapel hour, deprecate those "new age" people who claim to have found ideas like reincarnation and karma in the Bible. About karma he said, "You certainly won’t find that in the Bible!" But I ask the reader: What is arguably the most famous statement of karma in the whole world? And where is it found? Gal. 6:7 reads: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Jesus gives considerable detail about karma in the four gospels. Presumably, a corollary of that is true also: nothing happens without a cause. Unfortunately, most people who call themselves Christian blame all bad actions on the Devil, even though we find Jesus saying "…Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you." (John 5:14)
What might be the laws, if any, that govern prayer? In the article, Dr. Dossey introduced us to an organization called Spindrift that was set up to conduct scientific experiments in prayer, and I briefly corresponded with them on this subject. I was given some of their newsletters which I still have. This whole subject is so startling and significant that Dr. Dossey was featured for an entire program by Oprah Winfrey, who exclaimed: "Isn’t God cool!" Following are a summary of and comments on the results observed by Spindrift.
The Spindrift people were certified Christian Science Practitioners, later expelled for publishing their findings. The biological systems used for the experiments were sprouting seeds, such as rye and beans, as well as bacteria and fungi. The basic test was to place seeds in a shallow container with vermiculite and moisture, separate them by a string down the middle, and pray for the growth and health of one half while ignoring the other half. Presumably, seeds would not have any religious bias open to attack by those whose beliefs were threatened, and if the premises were correct, the simple nature of these systems should make them more readily influenced by human beings.
What were the premises? Dossey writes: "A central assumption made by the Spindrift researchers is that all humans have divine attributes, a qualitative oneness with God." (What else, if we are made in the image and likeness of God?) From Spindrift’s Occasional Newsletter of Summer, 1990: "The major question confronting laboratory research in prayer and healing is stark: Is there a power of prayer other than that of human faith, the placebo effect? If there is, two striking corollaries to this fact follow hard on its heels:
There is a power in or available to the mind which differs from the power of belief, faith, will, or emotion, and,
This power operates over distance, that is, in ways unmediated by the human nervous system."
Parenthetically, at this point I want to make it clear that faith is not necessarily the same as belief. In the Christian tradition, they are considered the same, but I think (also not the same as belief) faith is a condition of the living organism - an attunement of all the levels of consciousness in the organism, analogous to the internal attunement of all parts of a radio or television receiver necessary for it to work. Faith has been called the covenant between the higher spiritual Self and the lower animal self. With this definition, "faith as a grain of mustard seed," mentioned by Jesus in the Bible, takes on great significance. In my opinion, when Jesus told the disciples what they could do if they had that degree of faith, it wasn’t to say that a tiny bit of belief could remove mountains; it meant that if the faith of a human were as perfect as that of a mustard seed (and by implication, it can be made to be that perfect) it would be an enormous power.
Probably all of us can give testimony to some personal experience, more or less amazing, to what we would call "answered prayer for healing." But how many of us have considered a definite rationale of prayer, and how prayer works under different circumstances? A review of the Spindrift findings is illuminating and exciting.
These studies suggest a rationale of prayer, and provide guidance to us for prayers of healing. It appears that prayer is actually a force or energy derived from our Divine Parent, and depends for its effectiveness on our ability to connect with the Source of all life and energy. The problem of calling on God to change His (or Her) Divine Mind thus disappears. From The Key to Theosophy by H.P. Blavatsky, we learn that prayer is an occult process bringing about physical results. However, she cautions: "But woe unto those occultists and theosophists who … send up waves of will-power for selfish or unholy purposes! For this is black magic, abomination, and spiritual sorcery."
Since practice and experience improve the effectiveness of our prayer, it is consistent with what we have come to expect from all other practice and experience. Recalling the words of Jesus in the Bible, "They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32), we recognize that our prayers for healing are best directed toward those who are ill or injured. Of course it is true that all have sinned, but life moves onward toward the "Father." The parable of the prodigal son gives both hope and solace for all.
Obviously, one cannot pray unless one has faith in a higher power. Therefore prayer cannot be expected to, and does not, work for doubters.
Why pray? Remember that Jesus said the Father knows our needs before we ask Him. Why, then, should one pray, and bother God? What happens if we don’t pray? It is proven that prayer is effective. Jesus tells us, "Ask and ye shall receive; Seek and ye shall find; Knock and it shall be opened unto you." Logically, it seems that prayer is simply a way of opening the door for the divine power to flow through us, and if we don’t do that simple act, the door doesn’t open -- at least not very wide. It may be like going into the kitchen to get a drink of water: the water is there, but you don’t get any unless you turn on the faucet.
Prayer opes the sluice of heaven with gentle sleight,
Lest faith, too suddenly transformed to sight
Joy heaped on joy, since all I have is thine
Whelm thee with inundation of delight.
(From Out of the Silence, by John Rhoades)
What, if anything, happens to food, drink and water that gets prayed over or blessed? What's the idea of blessing food, or asking God to bless food? Why go through all that? Is food different after someone blesses it? To put it another way, can one measure or qualitatively discern a difference in food or water after prayer or other human influence? If you wanted to look into this, how would you go about it? Enter Masaru Emoto, of Japan. I do not yet have permission to print pictures, but you can see photographs of frozen water crystals before and after being subjected to prayer, music and more subtle human influences. Check out the following link:
Put this information together with the prayer research findings described above, and you have something of the utmost significance.