Someone recently asked me how, as a liberal who is trying to give up magical thinking, I understand prayer. The question is a good one and deserves a good answer. The trouble is I’m not sure how to fit it in an email or a Liberating Word. In fact, I’m not really sure how to put it into words at all. That’s because, in part at least, like our understanding of God, words are too limited and too limiting, and even the act of articulation diminishes what is true.
This morning, someone mentioned to me the new drug being produced by Merck that President Jimmy Carter used to treat his cancer. Like everyone, apparently including him, I was surprised when he was able to announce, so quickly after his diagnosis, that he is cancer-free. The former president is a man of great faith, and I had the honor of praying with him when I was very young and he was Governor of Georgia. Is his remarkable recovery an answer to his prayers and the prayers of millions around the world? Can it be attributed to his faith or this new medication from Merck? All of the above?
I don’t know the answer, nor does anyone else. However, this new drug from Merck is a parable for my understanding of how prayer works in the world and in human lives. In my limited understanding, the drug does not attack the cancer; rather, it strengthens the body’s own defense system. It strengthens and reinforces how we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and that is how I believe prayer works, at least in part. It is how healing prayer works, and it is how prayer works in our world.
When I pray for peace, I do not expect that the Source of all Life will sprinkle the world with fairy dust and make us all behave. I do believe, however, that, if enough people of good will from every faith and tribe and nation begin to pray for peace, the heartbeats of humankind suddenly will begin to synchronize and something mystical will happen because our life forces will align with the Force of Life itself. That is how prayer works: it is about aligning with Life. Now that phrase deserves a book … or at least a time of prayer and meditation.
Rev. Michael Piazza