Thursday, December 29, 2005

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0035 - Prayer

Yesterday, I was blessed with two people praying for me out loud, one after a visit to our home by relatives, the other on the telephone with a friend whom I haven’t seen for a very long time. In both cases, they asked if I would mind if they prayed for me. In both cases I accepted, and in both cases I felt blessed.

So how does the perennial skeptic deal with this rationally?

Yesterday I wrote about arguing with oneself, about the process we all engage in daily of hearing voices asking questions, offering answers, making speculations, and so on. I suggested that there was no more credibility to the voices inside our head than to those we hear in dialogue with other people. I advised disputing the conclusions and assumptions of the voices within by using evidence, alternatives, implications, and usefulness of ideas. The point of arguing with oneself is to generate optimistic thoughts and emotions, something which we all know instinctively heal the spirit if not the body.

But then it occurred to me – is there any difference between arguing with oneself and prayer?

When friends and relatives pray out loud for you in your presence, there is a different tone and attitude expressed than when you are both engaged in dialogue. Extemporaneous prayers of petition express generosity and good will toward the one who is ill; that much is clearly obvious. But they also express the highest aspirations and dignity of the human spirit (OK, not always, but most of the time) for the wellbeing of another person; they do so in the guise of a personal petition to God.

But if both religion and the meaning of cancer are best understood as human creations, then prayer can be understood as a special kind of human dialogue whose purpose is to heal the sick. Not cure the illness, but heal the sickness.

We might not agree with one another about the nature of the universe, about the existence of a supernatural god, or even about the meaning of cancer. But when someone prays for you, especially out loud in your presence, the invitation is to a dialogue of healing. I can’t see anything wrong with this, as long as the individual being prayed for can separate his own worldview easily from that of the person praying for him. If the prayer is a genuine expression of a desire for healing, and if it doesn’t bludgeon the individual being prayed for with too many ill-conceived ideas, then it can be truly useful.

There are still some sticking points that I need to work on here. If prayer by another person who believes in a supernatural God is useful to the sick person, can a non-theistic sick person’s prayer for himself be useful? I suppose it can – in the same way that disputation with oneself can be useful in the healing process, I suppose prayer consciously directed towards the highest aspirations and dignity of the human spirit can be just as useful in healing oneself. But I need to think about this. Perhaps I need to pray about it too.

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