Sunday, January 13, 2013

The deep waters of prayer

If you happen to be reading this on Sunday, January 13, I'll remind you that this evening between 5 and 6 p.m. (in whatever time zone where you're claiming space) there will be a prayer vigil for Lawrence Auster, who is suffering from cancer, side effects of chemotherapy, and other unknown afflictions. 

Kristor, a frequent contributor to the dialogue at Auster's View From the Right, has organized the event.

The subject of prayer has been on my mind often this week. Not only because of the massed prayer for Auster, but because being in that strange borderland between middle aged and old, I feel less and less inclined to take this world as the complete reality -- instead, only one level (or "grade of significance," in G.N.M. Tyrrell's phrase) in a pattern of creation leading from lower to higher degrees of reality, truth, spirituality, however you want to think of it.

We humans are in a frustrating predicament. Most of us, most of the time, are "stuck" on the flypaper of physical reality. All the knowledge we obtain through our senses (more precisely, our brain's interpretation of sense data) is about the material plane. Yet the evidence is overwhelming that for some people, on some occasions, there is a semi-permeable membrane between the ordinary world of consensual reality and higher, or deeper, worlds.

I've banged on a fair amount in this blog about the findings of psychical research, but not much that I recall about prayer. If anything, prayer is harder to understand than paranormal phenomena like clairvoyance and mediumship. Clairvoyance relates -- in however unusual a fashion -- to events in the everyday world. Mediumship ostensibly is about mental contact with the spirits of those who have departed this life for another, obviously a tough idea for many to accept, but not conceptually hard to grasp.

With prayer, we are in still deeper waters. What is prayer? Who, or what, are we praying to? What can we expect as a result?

As to what prayer is, theologians and philosophers have had a go at that question for centuries: no general agreement. Who -- if anyone -- receives prayers? No general agreement. What result can we look for? No general agreement.

I mentioned earlier Larry Dossey's Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine. I haven't finished reading it, but have gone far enough to recognize it as a remarkably sane and thoughtful study of a subject prone to almost endless confusion, controversy, and in some quarters outright scorn.

Part of what is impressive is that Dossey doesn't try to avoid aspects of intercessionary prayer that make no logical sense. His outlook is as far as can be from New Age sentimental babble or philosophies that mind inevitably is stronger than matter, or that mind alone creates whatever we want. There is a paradox we have to face squarely: scientific studies have shown that prayer can benefit people (or experimental animals, presumably not susceptible to placebo effect) who are ill, even at any distance. The person or persons don't have to be in the presence of the recipient, or even acquainted with him or her.

But as surely as prayer works sometimes, it doesn't always work ... even when conditions appear similar to those when it does. Why are some prayers "answered" and not others? None of us want to believe in a God or higher power that chooses whom to deliver favors to. 

Certain questions seem to have no satisfactory intellectual answer. There was a story the other day about a man in England who nurtured a mouse and decided to release it into the fields that were its natural habitat. Hardly had he done so than a hawk swooped down and grabbed it.

That doesn't mean the hawk was "bad," of course -- he has to eat just like any other animal. The way of nature was simply playing itself out. But why was nature designed so that life must feed on other life?

The answer to that, to the nature of prayer's action, and other such mysteries are not to be found in our present state of being. But if we are open minded, we can accept that prayer for others' healing is beneficial. Sometimes. Let's hope that, for Lawrence Auster, this is one of those times.

1 comment:

Stogie said...

We think so much alike in questions about physical and metaphysical realities. Who do we pray to? Either to the universe and all the energies and laws that make it so, or simply put, to God. Whatever you want to call it doesn't matter. There is a power beyond our understanding, and sometimes we are able to influence it for our benefit. That's why I pray often.