What exactly is prayer? Do you have to believe in God to do it? Read on.
By Sara Davidson
Note: Elisabeth Targ, featured in the article, Does Prayer Work, in the September issue of O, The O Magazine, passed away July 18, 2002—after the issue had already gone to press. For more information about her life and work, go to www.etarg.org.
What is Prayer?
The word comes from the Latin precari, "to beg." The broadest definition is an engagement with the divine. The three common types of prayer are:
Intercessory prayer: Asking God or a higher power to intervene on someone's behalf.
Supplication: Asking for a specific outcome.
Nondirected prayer: Asking for the person's highest good or "Thy will be done."
What is distant healing? It's praying for people in a different location who don't know they're being prayed for. This eliminates the power of suggestion or hope—the placebo effect.
How do you pray? There are innumerable ways: reciting a traditional prayer, sitting in meditation, having a silent conversation with God, visualizing a result. Mother Teresa said when she prayed, she listened—and found "God is listening, too." If you don't know how to pray, Rabbi Zalman Schachter suggests you sit with a "prayerful person" and pray together. It's contagious.
Do you have to believe in prayer for it to work? The answer is not known, but most spiritual teachers suggest you fake it until it's real.
What's the difference between curing and healing? According to spiritual leaders, curing restores you to the condition you previously enjoyed. Healing means becoming more whole, or "moving toward the light." It's possible to have an emotional or spiritual healing even as one is dying.
Are there any negative side effects to prayer? Researchers say they've observed no harmful side effects, but Mitchell Krucoff, M.D., at Duke University says we need to consider safety issues. "When people are fighting for their lives, there's a possibility that prayer, by calming them, might counteract some physiological survival mechanism. We should at least think about this."
Can prayer be used for harmful results? Five percent of Americans pray for someone's harm, according to one poll. There's evidence that people's negative thoughts can slow the growth of bacteria and plants, but no human trials have been conducted because that would be unethical. "Our thoughts are a loaded gun," says Larry Dossey, M.D., author of Healing Words. "This could be a great gift if used properly—to kill cancer cells or the AIDS virus."
Can you pray for yourself? Absolutely. Elizabeth Targ, M.D., says there's evidence that people who pray for themselves tend to be happier, more peaceful and healthier than those who don't.
Elisabeth Targ, featured in the article, Does Prayer Work, in the September issue of O, The O Magazine, passed away July 18, 2002—after the issue had already gone to press. For more information about her life and work, go to www.etarg.org.