While our Pastor is on sabbatical, Chalice is putting on a series of services dealing with prayer. The first one, and the one I’m presiding over, considers intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer is asking God to intervene in a situation on behalf of another person. Here is something from an author at Sojourner on the topic.
While scientists are coming into agreement with religion that prayer can affect the person who prays, spiritual leaders are pushing science to take it to the next level: examining the effects of prayer beyond the one who prays. “When an individual generates great levels of compassion within herself,” said the Dalai Lama, “then we say that the Buddha is awakened within and this produces compassionate changes beyond the individual self.”
One Christian manifestation of the ability to produce compassionate change beyond oneself is “distance healing.” Recent scientific studies of intercessory prayer, mental healing, non-contact therapeutic touch, and spiritual healing show statistically positive outcomes. Larry Dossey’s books Prayer is Good Medicine and Healing Beyond the Body provide an excellent overview of how Western science is trying to catch up with our spiritual traditions and practices.
Bringing scientific inquiry to bear on spiritual practices can give us—the practitioners—new ways of understanding what we do and how we do it. As Christians, we have received a prayer tradition. It’s important that we continually exercise our prayer muscles, that we pursue a variety of ways of opening ourselves to God, and that our churches be prayer laboratories for social-spiritual experiments. For example, how can liturgy physically enhance the compassion centers of our brain? How does developing a state of energy-balance in our frontal cortex allow us to minister more effectively in situations of conflict? Perhaps the next level of scientific study will be on the power of prayer to effect non-personal change—prayer as a tool for social transformation.
From Prayer: It Does A Body Good, by Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor of Sojourners, is a Catholic peace activist and poet.
So, what do I think happens when a congregation prays for the sick? That is a tough, but important assignment for me. The first paragraph of the excerpt is referring to the fact that prayer helps one develop the natural sense of empathy. I think that is valuable, and a specific and unique benefit of faith. The rest of the passage is the hard stuff for me. I’ve got Friday & Saturday left to figure it out though. I’m sure it will be fine.