Talk-Show Host Listens To Why People Pray

POWERFUL PRAYERS

By Larry King

Renaissance Books

256 pp., $22.95

Goldie Hawn prays regularly "to be an instrument of God's light," and Jeane Kirkpatrick for peace and an understanding of "God's purpose in the world."

Willie Nelson is in prayer mode "most of the time." He says, "Practically every song I write is a prayer in one way or another."

Quarterback Steve Young asks for "clarity of mind" and baseball's Tommy Lasorda, "for the strength to do the right thing."

Jack Kevorkian doesn't pray at all. Margaret Thatcher does, but says it's too personal to discuss. Sen. Orrin Hatch credits prayer with his healing of deafness in one ear. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says it humbles you and helps to "straighten our path."

The intimate relationship that prominent people from all walks of life have with God is the subject of "Powerful Prayers," a new book by talk-show host Larry King. Mr. King brings his famous interview skills to bear on what he calls the "the big conversation." The result - a stirring, humorous, sometimes exhilarating exploration of why and how people pray and the impact prayer has on their lives - plumbs new depths for the celebrity interview.

The book is a mosaic of conversations, none at great length. But most interviewees speak from the heart with such clarity, directness, and apparent eagerness that one is aware of sharing genuinely intimate moments and deeply held convictions.

King, a self-described agnostic, was nudged into this book by his daughter, Chaia, who came up with the idea. He turned to a friend, Rabbi Irwin Katsof, executive vice president of the Jerusalem Fund, to be his spiritual guide through the process. It wasn't always an easy fit, and the interaction between the skeptic and the teacher - which threads among the interviews - adds humor and poignancy. It may also broaden the book's appeal to those who sit in King's camp.

Rabbi Katsof supplies telling parables and insights, while King seems stuck at the point that until he has proof God exists, he doesn't see a reason to pray.

The year and a half spent on this book didn't make him "a believer," King says in an interview, but it has affected him. "I've certainly seen the power of it for people. I appreciate that very intelligent people believe in it.... I haven't made that leap that says, 'Someone is watching over me,' but I am much more open to it than I was." In fact, "I envy believers," he adds.

Those he interviewed from the fields of politics, the arts, sports, business, medicine, religion, and the media offered countless reasons for a commitment to prayer. From healings of cancer to strength to endure a communist prisoner-of-war camp (Sen. John McCain), to having a child, to gaining courage in prison, to winning freedom from drugs and despair, the instances given are vivid and compelling.

King says his greater openness to prayer is "due a lot to the medical things, especially where people had tremendous recoveries, and the studies of how people who pray do better."

In the book, he explores the shift in medical attitudes toward prayer, and talks with Virginia Harris of the Christian Science Board of Directors about how Christian Science heals. Mrs. Harris discusses her healing following a car accident, and the experience of a medical nurse who no longer needed surgery after reading "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy.

This is the most intriguing aspect of this book - hearing in their own words how business people, artists, media magnates, soldiers, and others approach prayer. David Crosby, guitarist for The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, for example, tells how he prayed in prison and afterward to escape alcohol and cocaine addiction. Sir John Marks Templeton explains its role in running his mutual fund business. Peter Lowe, who organizes seminars with speakers such as Colin Powell and former President Bush, describes how he prayed and found his wife.

As if speaking for many of those interviewed, Wayne Huizenga, who built Blockbuster Videos and bought the Miami Dolphins and Florida Marlins, affirms: "Prayer is the most important thing that I do."

King says he was impressed with "how people pray in so many ways - in a pool, a car, daily, hourly." Since the book came out, "I've run into people who say they are rethinking how they pray. One interviewer told me he now feels he doesn't pray enough."

More than 50 percent of Americans pray at least once a day, and many superachievers clearly are among them. This book is a glimpse into the rich and fruitful inner world they inhabit as they go about their daily lives - and make news.

* Jane Lampman is the Monitor's religion and ethics writer.

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