Exploring the Meaning And Power of Prayer In Individual Lives


By John Holmstrom

The Berkley Publishing Group 214 pp., $12

WHEN John Holmstrom was researching this book, the minister of a large Boston church said, ''I don't know anyone that has had a healing or an unusual prayer experience in the congregation, but I'd be glad to talk to you about prayer.''

Talking isn't enough anymore. Many of us have mined various denominations and come up empty. I remember reading those great Bible stories in grade school. I raised my hand and wondered aloud: What happened that God stopped doing that stuff? It was as if He had hung up on us! Then a niggling syllogism offered itself - no more miracles, no more God?

Many in a whole generation bought that bill of goods.

Prayer is the connection we missed, and here's a whole book about it. Holmstrom wanted to explore why people pray, how they pray, and the result. He interviewed Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Protestants, Christian Scientists, native Americans. They tell stories of overcoming all manner of incapacity - infertility, alcoholism, a tumor, lupus, a broken neck, the effects of abuse.

As the people in this book speak, they echo each other - the importance of humility, faith, listening. ''I found similar threads of truth in different religions. I realized that if something is true, it's true for everyone,'' says a recovering alcoholic.

A former Benedictine nun goes a step further: ''The energy of the Godhead could not possibly be contained in any narrow doctrine, whether it's Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, or fundamentalist,'' she says. ''The world is full of stories about God. They are like rivers flowing from one reservoir.''

Which isn't to say that many of those interviewed aren't continuing in denominations, they just dig deeper - and don't come up empty-handed. And despite the book's subtitle, many don't see their experiences as miraculous but as a natural outgrowth of an almost ceaseless effort to know and understand God and to see themselves as connected to God.

''I began to believe that God saw me as an expression of Himself; His presence was within me,'' says the recovering alcoholic.

In some of these stories the prayers are simple, the healings instantaneous. In others, the process is more of a journey. For Joyce Milgaard, for instance, freeing her son, who had been unjustly imprisoned, took almost 24 years.

For a reader, all this is unutterably encouraging. Heaven knows we've all heard enough about angels. Maybe the world is ready for prayer.

Holmstrom writes, ''I often became upset after an interview about a life-changing prayer experience when I realized how the world is increasingly programmed to view disaster, agony, and violence as entertainment. Why are we so easily distracted from learning about our spirituality?'' This book is a place to start.

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