By Margarita Nahapetyan
Nowadays in the United States millions of Americans offer prayers on a daily basis to heal themselves, their families, friends, colleagues and even people they briefly know, considering it as the most common complement to medicine, vitamins, herbs, acupuncture and other healing remedies. Prayers are offered everywhere - in churches, mosques, ashrams, "healing rooms," and prayer groups. Surveys have found that perhaps half of Americans regularly pray for their own health, and at least a quarter have others pray for them.
"Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism -- every religion believes in prayer for healing," said Paul Parker, a professor of theology and religion at Elmhurst College, Chicago. "Some call it prayer, some call it cleansing the mind. The words or posture may vary. But in times of illness, all religions look towards their source of authority."
Few years ago a small group of researchers tried to test scientifically the power of prayer to heal people. The results turned out to be highly controversial. Skeptics called the research a "complete waste of money" in its attempt to put together the supernatural with science. And some believers said that it is useless even to try to divine the workings of God with experiments invented by mortals.
Proponents, however, pointed that the research was valuable, and showed large numbers of people who believe in the power of prayer to improve health. "It's one of the most prevalent forms of healing. Open-minded scientists have a responsibility to look into this," explained Marilyn J. Schlitz of the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.
Many scientific studies demonstrate that devout individuals are physically healthier and live much longer. Churches, synagogues and mosques may help people take better care of themselves. For example, the quiet meditation and incantations of praying helps individuals to lower blood pressure and incidence of stroke and heart disease. Regarding mental health, believers tend to have lower rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide. Religion can promote health by discouraging unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol and drug use, smoking, and high-risk sex, and providing social support and a sense of life to those in need.
Therefore, prayer is making a medical comeback. From 94 per cent of Americans who believe in God, or a higher power, 75 per cent of patients , for example, would prefer if their physician addressed spiritual issues as part of a medical treatment. In addition, 40 per cent of patients would like their physicians to actively discuss religious issues with them, and about 50 per cent percent want their physicians to pray not just for them but together with them. In a growing trend, 43 percent of American physicians privately pray for their patients.
Praying for the sick is one of the most common prayer topics for many people today, no matter what religion they belong to, but some people are confused not knowing exactly as to how to pray for those who are sick, and worry that their prayers may not appear to be heard and answered.
To start with, it is always good to be persistent in praying for the recovery and healing of someone who is close to you, and who you deeply care for. Even when it seems that prayer is the only hope that is left, do not give up on praying. Also, it is good to keep in mind that when someone is close to death and suffers too much, the healing prayer can turn into a prayer for peace and a merciful end to the suffering and pain. This is a reflection of a very deep heartfelt concern for the sick person.
It is always better to be specific, and to pray for the variety of issues connected only with the ill person. You may not only want to pray for the healing of the particular disease, but for the sick person's inner strength to be able to handle and cope with their condition, for a quality of rest or sleep which would help the recovery, for concerns that are causing anxiety, for the rest of the family and so on.
Human experience suggests that most of healing and cure happens through the medical interference, but this should deny neither the hand of God in it, nor the corresponding influence that prayer can have in medical healing. God has given certain skills to people, and has equipped the human mind with the creativity to discover and realize more about ourselves and how to take care of our lives.