Can prayer help?
A Christian Science perspective on daily life.
Not long ago I was watching a wrap-up of the news on CNN. After the host had run through the latest disasters – the war in Iraq, the drought in Atlanta, the earthquake in Chile – he announced a call-in opportunity for the audience. Was it possible, he asked, that prayer could help? At first, I was surprised. Who would call in and say no?
But then I thought about times in my life when I'd asked the same question myself. I haven't faced any car bombs, but here's a wrap-up of the events in my life over only the past year or so. First, I lost my husband to a sudden heart attack just as he was about to lead a meeting that, in my view, marked the peak of his career. I was overwhelmed with grief, and, like a lot of other people, had only enough money in our bank account to cover expenses for another month. It looked as if I was going to have to sell everything we owned.
Then, I had to put my mother in a nursing home – one of the hardest decisions of my life. Simultaneously, I learned that my husband and I had been horribly misrepresented over the years. Then, after a cross-country move to a smaller house in rural California, I became one of the almost 500,000 people who were evacuated because of the wildfires. Where, I was tempted to ask sometimes, was God?
I'm grateful that each time the question posed itself, I already knew the answer from long experience. He was right there. And although there isn't enough room here to tell you how my prayers were answered every time, I can say that I felt our divine Father-Mother-God's care and love in tangible ways every time I turned to Him in prayer. I've learned that I can hear God's voice in the midst of turmoil if I become very quiet.
I've also learned that, rather than think I have to tackle what looks like an overwhelming disaster all at once and all by myself – after all, there were plenty of people praying about those wildfires, and a lot of firefighters and rescue volunteers to back them up – I make the most progress with my prayers when I start small.
Here's an example from this morning. After a transcontinental flight, I had a bad earache, and then my nose began to bleed. My first thought might have been, Oh for Pete's sake, what next?! But I knew to listen with all my heart for God's voice above the turmoil. I don't mean I was listening for an audible voice – just for that quiet reassurance, the inner conviction, that He was there.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, wrote an essay titled "Angels" that describes this experience for me best: "When angels visit us," she wrote, "we do not hear the rustle of wings, nor feel the feathery touch of the breast of a dove; but we know their presence by the love they create in our hearts…. This sweet assurance is the 'Peace, be still' to all human fears, to suffering of every sort" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," pp. 306-307). Getting a grip on fear is an enormous start for any prayer.
Soon, I "heard" this statement in my thought: "Sit down on your bed and be quiet." Experience has taught me to obey these divine directives. I sat down! As I looked at all I'd been thinking about, I realized my mind was full of disasters. Now I turned my whole focus back on God – His goodness, His power, His presence. For a few moments, that's how I prayed. The bleeding stopped. My ear didn't hurt. I praised God with my thanks. Later I found this psalm that is almost verbatim the "voice" I heard: "Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still" (4:4). In a way, I could see that God had said the same thing to the Psalmist centuries ago – through wars, through heartache, through loss.
I wasn't one of the people who called CNN to cast my vote for the power of prayer. It's hard for me to think of prayer as subject to the popular vote. But I count on experiences like this one to remind me, next time I need reminding, that prayer can provide the answer to any problem I might have.