Does beseeching a higher power change anything?

Looking somber in a well-fitted powder blue suit, and sounding a lot like my mother, House Speaker, Nanci Pelosi, in a press conference recently, implored the collective “we” to be prayerful, saying she prayed for the president, and that she’d even told him as much on a call regarding gun violence prevention, a few weeks prior. She told him she prayed that “God will give you illumination, an enlightenment to pray to work for the safety of other families in our country.”

Later on Twitter, I saw her call to prayer met with mixed responses. Some saw it as weakness. Others said that the thoughts and consciousness of many could bring clarity and evenness to the difficulty before us.

The house speaker has demonstrated she is nothing if not tough. But what if her call to prayer is an admission that no one functions entirely on their own power? That it’s an appeal for the spiritual energy of the many to face or change what is past what can be accomplished alone? And that at the point when all earthly resources have been employed, it’s our human nature to want more. In other words, prayer is a reflexive, humble call for back-up.

In our culture, strength seems to be measured by the muster of the individual. However, most of us have experienced events and situations beyond our efforts and answers, moments that bring us to our knees. In those times, a significant percentage of even nonbelievers find themselves reaching out in prayer.

I call myself a Christian and state this in a slightly ambiguous way because my faith is a belief, tied to feeling as much as fact. The only real truth for me is that I don’t know. I don’t know where we came from, why we are here, and if there is some guiding force at work in all of it. When other Christian friends talk about answered prayer, I admire and even envy their faith, even if I don’t ascribe to it. I pray. But when I do, I’m confused and humbled, while at the same time feeling arrogant in my personal petitions. I don’t pretend to know how this prayer thing works.

It was a beautiful day, one that some would say, “the Lord hath made,” when they pulled my husband’s brother unconscious from the ocean. After being revived and rushed to the hospital, came his uncertain recovery. In the horror of the trauma, I voiced my requests to God. I did it out of instinct, looking around at all the earthly options and hoping they were not all there was. Unbelievers might call it desperate and illogical. What I understood in the moment was my smallness.

Deepak Chopra, in an interview some years back with Oprah, talked about prayer and how it differs from mediation. One, he said, is the act of talking to God while the other is “allowing the spirit to speak to you.” He explained how Christianity refers to meditation as “centering prayer,” such as implied in the much quoted scripture, Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Scientific studies have found that prayer carries with it all the same proven physical benefits as meditation, though, which are everything from reducing blood pressure to boosting immune responses. When you add belief to the mix, you see similar results as a placebo, which clinical studies have shown to have measurable positive effects on physical disorders.

As my brother-in-law lay in the hospital, the family decided to keep the news of his accident from his mother, she elderly and herself recovering from a recent illness. Through his slow journey back from his nightmare, though, I felt the weight of our discretion. The Bible references the power of a praying mother, and for the same reasons stated above, which are emotional and admittedly irrational, I believed in this supernatural ability. I always thought my mother had some intimate, direct line to God. What she clearly had was an unwavering faith. One with more firm a foundation than mine. If she prayed for me, I had a degree of confidence God was listening. But because of all these beliefs I held, I felt the imperative to tell my mother-in-law about her son. Then she would pray for him, and we needed his mother’s prayers.

Still, there’s a terrible error in replacing action with prayer, such as when lawmakers send “thoughts and prayers” to those who have lost loved ones to gun violence but then refuse to do what is within their human power to make a difference.

The man walking on the beach who seeing my brother-in-law lying in the sand and offered his aid, was not relying on prayer. There are times when we know in our gut not to be still. But it’s also possible that before he gave his breath to a dying stranger, he beseeched something beyond his understanding for help.

Deepak Chopra talks about prayer as “non-local.” How “…any thought, not just a prayer, has quantum implications…”. When Nanci Pelosi says she prays for the president, we can assume she not only talks to God but also uses whatever human power at her disposal to bring about that for which she prays. And when she asks us to pray, she is not suggesting we plead instead of act, but she may be considering this quantum power, a “field of pure potential,” exponentially greater than that of our “local” desires.

When we finally told my mother-in-law of her son’s condition, from her chair and in her helplessness, she made her direct requests to God. Then realizing, as most mothers do, her limits, went to her social media, and posted for all to see, “ PLEASE PRAY FOR MY SON.”

Telling true stories. Words at Narratively, The Hunger Journal, Entropy, Brave Voices Magazine, Austin American Statesman.

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