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Can prayer heal ?

Discussion in 'Interfaith Dialogues' started by Archived_Member16, Jul 25, 2005.

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    Jan 7, 2005
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    Can prayer heal?
    A look at the research, facts and faith surrounding this divine practice
    By Peter Carter

    The power of prayer

    In May 2001, at age 47, Shelley Solmes, host of CBC Radio Two's daily program "Take Five," was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. She contracted pneumonia and an X-ray revealed a tumour. Three months later the cancer had flooded the lymph glands in her neck and underarms. "I could hardly swallow or breathe," says Shelley. "After an excruciating bone-marrow test, I went straight into chemotherapy the same day."

    The power of prayer
    Shelley fought her illness with every weapon she had. She followed a strict medical regimen and diet. She enjoyed the moral support of her colleagues and loved ones. She treated herself to positive experiences. And some days at work Shelley would remove her headset, step away from the microphone and sit at a nearby piano. There she would softly play a simple repetitive composition, intended for nobody's ears but God's. Her music of choice was a chant adapted from a prayer of St. Theresa of Avila, "Nada Te Turbe." Roughly translated as "let nothing disturb you." It was one of the ways Shelley prayed her way through cancer.

    That was almost three years ago. Today Shelley's colour and hair are back. And her faith in the power of prayer is stronger than ever. Shelley believes her own form of praying helped her through cancer. So the question arises: can prayer -- asking for divine help -- really make you better?

    The answer is yes. Not only have studies linked intercessory prayer, or asking for help, to improved health, but there are also aspects of prayerlike behaviour that are clearly associated with wellness. And you can practise your own form of prayer at home, even if you don't believe in a higher being.

    What the research says

    What the research says
    The research community has been weighing in on the power-of-prayer debate for several years. Scientists have identified clear links between prayerlike activities and good health. Psychoneuroimmunology is the study of how your central nervous system affects your health, and at a conference on the subject last April, Dr. Bruce Rabin, a professor of pathology and psychiatry and medical director of the Health Lifestyle Program of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, illustrated the mind-body connection. "Ask anybody who has psoriasis what makes their disease worse, or multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis." The answer: stress. The antidote: less stress.

    Rabin says social support, religious activities and optimism are all associated with maintaining your immune system. Attitudes that we associate with praying -- the sense of hope, connectedness and purpose -- have a measurable positive effect on our natural levels of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, all of which make us feel good. And that's exactly what yoga, meditation and antidepressants do for us, too.

    Bertholde Carter, a social worker and family therapist in Sudbury, Ont., who has researched the relationship between attitude and pain relief, says: "We all know our chances of achieving goals are greatly influenced by our attitudes. Of course, there's a relationship between positive attitudes and success."

    Beyond the evidence, faith

    Beyond evidence, faith
    Then there's the other side of prayer. That's when an individual or group asks a higher power to actually step in and make somebody healthier. Since the late 1980s, there have been hundreds of studies of intercessory prayer in which people pray for help from a higher being such as God. The grandmother of them all is a 1988 project in which Dr. Randolph Byrd, a cardiologist at San Francisco General Hospital, studied 393 patients in the coronary-care unit. He assigned patients to either a prayed-for group or a control group. The first group was prayed for every day by Christians they had never met -- and from a distance. After 10 months, the patients who were prayed for had fewer symptoms and required less medication than the others.

    While researchers continue to find links between science and intercessory prayer, believers don't need the lab results.

    Rev. Michael Caveney, a minister at Gordon Head United Church in Victoria, says the studies are simply evidence of something he has believed for a long time: that God, in a mysterious way, will intercede. Like Shelley, he believes that God responds to our requests. "As far as I can tell, prayer works. And everything happens for a reason. I believe that praying is also about giving over to God, putting our lives in God's hands. There's something terribly liberating about that."

    Source: Homemakers June 2004
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