Prayer in the scientific sense

Brittney M. Walker | 7/21/2010, 5 p.m.

"Pray about it" is what mama used to say. It's good for the soul. Many of us pray for a miracle, for guidance, a significant other, sanity, money, and just about everything else. For some of us, we feel a little better after we've let it all out, and let God know the desires of our hearts.

Prayer in the universal sense is simply a form of communication, be it with God, self, the universe, or whatever entity people decide to release their most intimate thoughts and desires to.

As defined by Anna Louise Strong in "Psychology of Prayer," "Prayer is the direct interaction of two selves arising simultaneously in consciousness, as the result of a need, a lack, a disturbance which demands the presence of a completer and more adequate self before it can be overcome."

People from all walks of faith, and all over the world, do it. To whom and how they do it is what may differ from one culture to the next. Ultimately, it is the product of prayer that matters most.

Not the actual manifestation of those wishful, "God if you do this one thing for me..." kind of prayers, but the healing power the act of prayer offers.

Think back the last sermon you heard on Sunday, or Saturday. There was an altar call, or moment of thunderous prayer, or time of silent reflection. When you or whoever was praying, was there a feeling of relief, revival, something anew enlivened in your spirit? If not, check your pulse.

In truth, studies have shown that prayer actually works on a psychological and even a physical level.

A popularly used study by Randolph C. Byrd of 393 coronary care patients found that those who received intercessory prayer showed signs of improvement and encountered fewer medical problems throughout the experiment.

While it seems as if countless numbers of people have lost their religion, and the popularity prayer appears to have significantly declined, psychologists are saying the medical healing of prayer is making a comeback.

In an article published in Psychology Today, over the past decade or so, scientists are finding that prayer has a remarkable healing power. More studies are showing that those who are afflicted emotionally or even physically, and incorporate prayer into their lives, show a significant "difference in recovery from an illness or trauma."
Depression in particular is one of those restless giants that wake up in the lives of just about anyone. But research shows that prayer could change that.

People now more than ever are popping pills for their psychological and emotional distresses. But where is there room for spiritual healing? Prayer as part of the solution, says Kenneth Caine and Brian Kaufman, is the real cure for the world's depression problems.

"Depression is a black cloud that doesn't blow away, dissipate, or lift as it should. When depression hits, our brain chemistry goes awry - the chemicals that regulate our senses of well-being, joy, pleasure, our sex drive, and our ability to concentrate vary and wane, says Dr. Meier," the two wrote in their book "Prayer, Faith, and Healing."