I don’t know if it was divine intervention that kept us alive on Saturday but I also don’t know that it wasn’t. At noon, I tore myself away from the azure waters of Turks and Caicos, dreading the hassle of the airport and the three hour flight home with my five kids. After barely getting through security in one piece, we stepped back in time to 1950s Calcutta. The two fans that were blowing did little to cool off the air or the tempers in the mobbed waiting area. To say the room was too small and too crowded would be a gross understatement. We were thrilled when we finally boarded our Jet Blue flight bound for JFK. I had, at this point, already exhausted my bag of tricks for entertaining my 17 month old twins and so, geared myself up for a hellish 3 hour flight filled with screaming, throwing of bottles and embarrassing attempts to keep two little monkeys still. I was not geared up for 12 hours on-board with no food and carefully rationed water and boxed milk. After a year in therapy, maybe I will be able to elaborate further on that ordeal. It was beyond frustrating and occasionally scary, but it paled in comparison to the last 15-20 minutes on the flight as the pilots tried to fly through a lightning storm to land in New York. At some point, I stopped praying that the plane would arrive safely and started praying that the crash would happen quickly with no pain or suffering for my children. You have probably, by now, figured out that we did, in fact, land — at the hands of the pilot and air traffic control. But, I can only believe, also by the grace of God. There is some evidence that prayer actually works and doctors, once skeptical, are accepting and addressing the spiritual aspect of healing more and more.
1. One-third of Americans pray for their health. 85% of those suffering from a disease, pray for help. This makes prayer an important part of the medical conversation.
2. People who regularly attend religious services tend to live longer – by up to seven years.
3. Regular worship has been shown to improve the immune system and strengthen the body’s response to stress.
4. There is evidence that patients have better outcomes when they know people are praying for them. There is also some evidence that patients do better even when they don’t know that they are being prayed for. This, though, has been largely refuted in scientific literature.
5. Prayer is a form of meditation. Meditation has been proven to be a useful complement to traditional medicine, not only for its healing and stress reducing powers but for its aide in helping a patient cope. As we have all experienced, our frame of mind changes the way we feel our pain. A hangover induced headache is much worse at work than it is at a tailgate party. The pain is the same, it is our perception of the pain that changes – and our proximity to some hair of the dog. Prayer, at the very least, provides a coping mechanism.
There is an ongoing and intense debate over the power of prayer between religious people and scientists. I pursued a career in science and I believe in God. I don’t think that this is a contradiction. I have seen many prayers go unanswered and I have witnessed miracles. I have watched science succeed and I have seen it fail. Of course, I have also seen faith triumph and I have seen it flounder. Prayer doesn’t hurt. There are no side effects. It is free. Either there is a God who is listening and prayer is a good idea or there is no higher being and this life is all there is. I choose to believe that there is more – if only to get me out of bed in the morning for another day of carpooling, tantrums and misplaced shinguards.