Science & Medicine

Prayer — What difference does it make

Prayer – What difference does it make?

,Considering how grim much of this past year has been, the  piling on of climate change, pandemic, deep social mistrust and division, enforced isolation, war, famine  and all the rest, it seems only appropriate to see 2021 off with a prayer for relief in 2022. But prayer? For what and to whom?

Let me start where it ended, for me,  25 years ago.

There’s a simple Biblical prayer for healing. Aaron’s sister developed leprosy. He prays, El nah rafah nah lah. Lord, please heal her.

My wife had developed an aggressive form of cancer.  Privately, along with the Congregation and much of the San Francsico Bay Area Jewish community that loved her, we prayed for her recovery.  In private and at services, three times a day, El nah rafah na lah.  Seven months after her diagnosis, at the conclusion of the High Holiday Days, she died.  And so did my lingering faith in prayer.

What was the use of all those wasted words and hopes? And to Whom or to What did I think we were  praying?

If the Holocaust wasn’t reason enough to deny the ability of prayer to shape events, what more evidence did I need to realize prayer changed nothing?

Except, I lived long enough to discover it does. It changes everything.

As our MPN brothers and sisters report their symptoms, I pray for their recovery. For their peace. I just found myself automatically reverting to prayer as Harvey headed for a hail Mary stem cell transplant, when Robert’s blast phase spiraled wildly out of control, when Kathy’s failed MF treatment was complicated by a brain cancer, when Pastor Dave’s condition rapidly worsened. And when Beatrice and Marina recovered, I offered thanks in gratitude..

I no longer believe my prayers will affect the outcome of illness progression. I don’t believe there is a God receiving and logging in my prayers. I am offering prayer as a primal reflexive effort to connect with the Creator, to stand however briefly, in the presence of a power far beyond my comprehension. And in that brief time, whether to express gratitude or present a petition or simply stand in silence, I have felt that connection and immeasurable acceptance and relief.

I don’t believe prayer can alter the course of a disease working its way through the labyrinth of genetics, circumstance, and the impacts of science and medicine. But I discovered it is  sometimes possible to put aside the clamor of everyday life, the activity, the pain, the grief, the joy…and find a quiet moment to draw a breath in prayer, in peace, and find renewed comfort in being  part of the work of Creation.




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