Happy National Day of Prayer. In honor of this day I invite everyone to pray for a worthy cause: me. To make things easy for you I’ve written out the prayer, complete with annotations:
“Almighty _______ [fill in name of your chosen higher power], I beseech you to grant the unselfish desire of Brian Hines, who lives on Lake Drive in Salem, Oregon [this is needed to direct the prayer away from the other undeserving Brian Hines’ in the world, and also to make sure my desire is delivered to the right place].
“Please place a supercharged Mini Cooper, racing green with the sunroof, in his driveway as he has been beseeching you for so long [well, just a bit over two years, but the prayer has more pathos with ‘for so long’].
“Brian’s desire is unselfish because this car will bring him so much joy, it [joy, if the higher power asks what this admittedly grammatically imprecise pronoun refers to] will flow out behind his speeding wheels everywhere he journeys, raising the spirits of all who glimpse the Mini Cooper blur. I thank you in advance for your grace and remain your humble servant,_______ [fill in your name if you want to be sure the higher power knows who is praying].”
Given my evident self-interest in the question, “Does prayer really work?,” I’m hoping that the answer is a hardy “Yes!” However, it appears the evidence is mixed, at best. Hector Avalos has written a thoughtful article, “Can Science Prove That Prayer Works?,” which makes me skeptical that the Mini Cooper is going to show up.
The tone at what purports to be “the annual National Day of Prayer official website” is, not surprisingly, a lot more upbeat. I browsed around for some reassurance that the Almighty answers prayers for supercharged Mini Coopers, but couldn’t find any. Disturbingly, the suggested areas for prayer today have nothing to do with my primary prayerful interests. Namely, my own happiness (in general) and the car that will make me happy (in particular).
Instead, people are asked to (1) Pray for the President, (2) Pray for journalists to be fair and balanced in their reporting, (3) Pray for students as they get ready for summer vacations, (4) Pray for churches and their support of their communities, and (5) Pray for families seeking to raise their children well.
At first glance this is a rather strange conglomeration of things to pray for, but a closer reading of the suggested prayers page reveals a unifying dogmatic Christian right philosophy. For example, in the Education area, it isn’t really a nice summer vacation that is the goal of prayer.
Rather, the problem is that “Many of our schools and universities are minimizing traditional subjects such as history and math, and are instead promoting a radical social agenda. Condom distribution, the promotion of homosexuality and a refusal to acknowledge God have become commonplace in our institutions of learning today.”
OK. This is a free country (for now, at least). Pray away for whatever you want to (though remember that a Mini Cooper for Brian Hines is the highest and greatest object of prayer). The big question, though, is who or what is on the other end of the prayer line.
Assuming such a connection even exists. I’ve got an open mind, since evidence for what physicists term “non-locality” is indisputable on the quantum level. Somehow the universe is one while also being many. Though no one knows the mechanism by which prayer might have an effect on objects or people, there may be a universal power underlying thoughts that awaits discovery by science.
Harold Koenig, a physician who, like Larry Dossey. studies the effects of spirituality on health and well-being, says that “the question is whether human intentions, within or outside meditation, have any effect on another person. Do good or bad intentions have non-local effects?” (see two interesting essays about prayer experiments by he and Dossey here).
Koenig goes on to say:
So, I think it would be a lot clearer—from both scientific and theological point—if we simply call such studies experiments of human intention, and not confuse things by calling them “intercessory” prayer. Intercessory prayer suggests that you are interceding before someone else on behalf of another person, and the Western concept of God (on which interceding before a personal God has meaning) does not hold up well under such controlled experiments. Thus, to keep things clean, I think we ought to focus on whether human intention or Eastern meditative prayer has any non-local effects, and just leave a personal God out of it.
Good advice. It’s interesting that, by and large, Eastern thought considers that human intention or desire is the problem, not the solution. For karma is the result of action, and actions flow from intentions. Karma is what keeps us bound to illusion, a lower domain of physical existence.
Who knows? Western prayer researchers may end up finding that their experiments confirm the reality of the law of karma, not a personal Judeo-Christian God who responds to prayers. Intentions expressed in prayers might have the same non-local effect as any other sort of thoughts or actions: a karmic connection. Whereas the thoughts of a single individual may have minimal effects indiscernible via a controlled experiment, perhaps the prayers of many people can affect the course of events—health-wise or otherwise.
I’m much more inclined to entertain the hypothesis that a universal karmic law is operating in the cosmos than is the whim of a personal divine being. If such is the case, then intercessionary prayer will turn out to be one of the countless means by which we members of Homo sapiens are kept ignorant of ultimate reality. For so long as we egotistically act as if we’re the center of the universe around which all else revolves, we won’t be such in humble reality.
That said, it won’t hurt you to add a little bit more karma to the massive pile of intentions you’ve already produced. So go ahead and recite the Mini Cooper prayer at the beginning of this post. Recite it frequently and passionately. Recite it with the force of all your heart and mind as if my happiness depends on it, for so it does.
I’ll be watching my driveway.