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by L. Miles Standish

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 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.

1. Prayer for the growth and health of seeds, repeated many times, with many practitioners, shows that the effects are significant, quantifiable, and reproducible.

2. How about unhealthy organisms?  We usually pray for people who are sick or injured.  The experimenters stressed the seeds with salt (sometimes in other ways), and the results were striking - greater than with the unstressed seeds.

3. If the stress is increased, the effect is still more striking.

4. With different kinds of stress and different biological systems (bacteria and fungi), they got the same results.

5. Does it matter how much one prays?  The findings were that more prayer produces more results (consider Luke 11:8). This was done by the "X, Y, Z tests."  This test divided containers of seeds into three groups: X, Y, and Z.  One group of practitioners prayed for X and Y, and the other prayed for Y and Z.  The Y group, getting twice the amount of prayer, had twice the effects.

6. How does the prayer (not the pray-er) know which seeds to help?  The answer is that it doesn’t, but the person praying does need to know.  We need to know for whom or what we are praying.

7. Does practice count for anything?  The answer is Yes, it does.  Experience increases the effects.  This raises a very serious question: What, Who and Where is God in this?  It also raises a question about the "holiness" of the practitioner.

8. Does it matter how many parts one is praying for?  The surprising answer is No, but they must be part of a conceptual whole.  That is, the practitioner must be able to mentally embrace the whole group.  To quote from Dossey’s book: "So long as the practitioner can hold in his mind an overall concept of the system involved, the effect of prayer is constant over all components."

9. A very important result of these experiments comes from a study of directed versus non-directed prayer.  Non-directed prayer is much more effective.  By "directed" is meant addressing the specific chemical or physical needs of the biological system, such as praying for an increase of specific enzymes or lowering of blood sugar, etc.  Rather, pray for the ability of the system to return to its own norms.  In other words, pray: "Thy will be done."  Again, to quote from Dossey’s book: "It is a shocking thing to think of ‘force’ as intelligent, loving, kind, good, and aware of needs.  But in each test, prayer, somehow linked to a loving intelligence, moved the seeds toward their norms. When prayer was for seeds in different conditions - the same prayer at the same time - the outcome was always in the direction that was best for the needs of the individual beans."

In other words, in addition to being less effective, it is also unwise and perhaps harmful to pray for "what you want for a person."  It may be that the soul is approaching the time of withdrawal.  We should not pray for a "Divine bailout."  Instead, we should pray for and direct our energy toward helping the soul to accomplish what is best for it at this time.

10. Another experiment borders on the bizarre.  Called the penny-in-the-cup experiment, researchers put over-stressed beans in three plastic cups, with holes in the bottoms to drain excess moisture.  The cups were labeled H, T, and C, for Heads, Tails, and Control.  A penny was placed in another cup and covered so no one could see it.  The experimenters then shook the cup with the penny and prayed for the growth and health of the seeds in whichever cup corresponded to the upside of the penny.  The seeds corresponding to the upside received the prayer energy and grew faster than the others.

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*


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 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:  http://www.wellnessgoods.com/messages.asp  Put this information together with the prayer research findings described above, and you have something of the utmost significance.

* From Out of the Silence, by John Rhoads