Max Michael Wehrle was born with a gaping hole in his lung. Yet the congregation of his grandmother’s church swears the hole closed without surgery when they prayed devoutly for little Max.
Brenda Wickes was confined to a wheel chair, unable to walk without extreme pain. A friend asked her to pray and to make a visit to a church healing. Now, Brenda insists on walking 10,000 steps every day. She says that prayer healed her.
Stories like this abound in every faith and every culture. Are they lies? Deluded hallucinations? Not likely. Something happens every now and again in medicine that can’t be explained by science. Almost any doctor will tell you that.
Prayer is the most common companion therapy to mainstream medicine. People rely on prayer more often than they turn to acupuncture, nutritional supplements, or vitamins. Since the dawn of history, humans have sought intervention by their higher power.
Rob Stein of the Washington Post quotes Paul Parker, professor of religion at Elmhurst College near Chicago: “Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism—every religion believes in prayer for healing… Some call it prayer, some call it cleansing the mind. But in times of illness, all religions look toward their source of authority.”
Stein writes that the devout tend to be healthier, but no one is sure why. Maybe, he theorizes, healthy people are more apt to be churchgoers. Do pious people lead more wholesome lives?
“The quiet meditation and incantations of praying,” Stein continues in his Post article, “or the comfort of being prayed for, appears to lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, slow the heart rate and have other potentially beneficial effects.”
Both scientific and theological experts say God can’t be explained with science—belief in God and in the efficacy of prayer is a matter of faith. Faith means we choose to believe something, though it can’t be proven or disproven. We believe the sun will rise tomorrow. We believe there’s such a thing as true love.
For centuries, doctors and scientists were sure the earth was flat and the sun moved around the earth. They didn’t know that tiny organisms—bacteria—cause illness and death, or that minute quantities of drugs can prevent illness and death. Scientists can’t prove prayer heals, but that doesn’t mean that prayer is useless.
• Christians cite the Bible: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)
• The Gayatri Mantra is a Hindu universal prayer of healing the mind, body, and emotions.
• Jewish people believe that when they give tsedakah (charity) seeking healing, they manifest a holy path for abundance, and blessings flow from a Divine Source.
In most faiths, and among most spiritual practitioners, direct intervention or instant physical cure isn’t what praying gets you. The holiest of people say that the goal is to create a stronger bond between us and our personal divine source of all blessings. In groups, our energy can pull together. When my son was serving in Iraq, I asked a congregation to send him a prayer blanket, prayed over by the whole group. I felt comforted. He was safe.
We have strength when we help each other. Through our human kindness, perhaps we can affect an energy that sets up a path of healing for the sick or suffering. I don’t know if that can repair a hole in a baby’s lung, but it couldn’t hurt, right?