Monday, April 24, 2006

Pray if You Must

A few weeks ago a report was on the efficacy of prayer in hospitals. The initial fervor has died down, but after reading a number of articles on the research I found that none of the responses were all that valuable.

The claim on the results varied. Some said the results showed that prayer is ineffective or of no benefit. Others said that the data shows that patients that were prayed for were worse off than the patients who were not prayed for.

The responses to the results varied as well, and are listed in the reports linked above. Some claim that the study shows that there is no God, or that such studies are futile, or that proof of the supernatural is impossible to quantify.

My response, for the moment, is not to make much of the relationship between the theological and the scientific. My response is poetic.

American poet Miller Williams writes the following:


A traveler spreads a paper, removes his shoes,
bows, kneels, and touches his forehead to the floor,
lifts his head and touches it down again.
Another catches it on his camcord.
Some do what they must, some what they can.

Some do what they must, some what they can. The person of faith will often pray in order to receive a particular result from prayer. But this is not the only valence of meaning to prayer, because when a person of faith prays, it is not only for a result.

So, in some sense, the question is not about whether prayer is efficacious. The question is, for the person of faith, what else are you going to do? We do as we must, because the other option is to not pray, to cultivate separation between us and the one we love, to invite a parting between us and the one who loves us.

But this is hardly a choice. To not pray is simply not an option for a person who has a relationship with God. Just as I share my deepest desires, hopes, concerns and thanksgivings with the people closest to me, I also share these things with a God I know personally, whether I can guarantee the response I desire or not.

People of faith, even when we want our prayer to bear the results we hope for, will not stop praying even if it seems that our prayers are unanswered. We pray because we must; the alternative of separation is no alternative at all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The impulses of some people to want to try scientific experiements on God and faith seem really quite bizzare to me.

Have you heard of Michael Persinger and his "God helmet"?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006 5:27:00 AM  
Blogger Preston said...

I have not heard about Michael Persinger and his God helmet.

Tell me more.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006 11:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Persinger is a neurologist at Laurentian. He studied the brains of people having religious experiences to see the patterns of waves, what parts of the brain were active at the time, things like that. Then he built a helmet-like object that could generate the appropriate magnetic fields to externally stimulate those same areas. He puts test subjects in a dark, quiet room, to block other sensory information, and turns on the helmet to see if he can artificially reproduce experiences of the divine, in the hopes of showing there is a neurological basis to what people claim to be experiences of God.

read here

Tuesday, April 25, 2006 1:41:00 PM  
Blogger Marshall Scott said...

You may have seen my comments on this study and others at I've been looking at such things for years, and think they're interesting, very limited, and not terribly important.

Now, there are some studies I'd love to see - some that might well be done. For example, we know that for nurses the work environment is as or more important than stricly cash salary. Do chaplains measurably contribute to work satisfaction of nurses and improve nurse retention? Now that would be a valuable study!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 7:53:00 AM  
Blogger Helen said...

Like any profession, more than money matters. Right now, I am researching Nursing Workforce issues (Research Statstician on retainer for a Provincial Governemnt and Regional Health Authority in Canada). It would definitley be an interesting study. Research to date has shown that nurse burnout and turnover is most directly related to workload. Salary increases do little, if anything to retain nurses, and most other healthcare professionals.

Thursday, May 04, 2006 8:34:00 AM  
Blogger Preston said...

Catherine - I see no problem in connecting the neurological and the spiritual, at least theologically. I think the implicit conclusion of this kind of research is that if it is biological, it is not spiritual.

I hope that most Christians would question this kind of neo-gnostic dualism.

Marshall and Helen - some of the anecdotal evidence I hear at the Medical Center is that there is also a correlation between work culture and burn-out. Every Christmas there is a huge turnover on our Pediatric intensive care units, thought to be related to two things. 1. The spike in child abuse and related trauma around the holidays. The stories of what people did to their children this Christmas just might make you cry yourself to sleep tonight. I'm pretty sure this correlation, between abuse and the holidays, is statistically verified, but I couldn't point you to a study, unfortunately. 2. The tendency for any emotional reaction to the horrors that nurses see is understood as weakness, and not encouraged by the work culture here. Internal hospital resources that help deal with how work and trauma are affecting your mental health are horrendously underused, because of the stigma of weakness and inability associated with them. This includes chaplains.

Would a culture that included chaplaincy to over-stressed nurses help with work satisfaction? Absolutely. But the hurdles in changing the culture are many.

Thursday, May 04, 2006 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger Helen said...

huh...culture change...culture change in the nursing workforce...i like to say nothing is impossible...:)

there is a phenomena in the nursing workforce, stated as 'they eat their young.' found in many work situations, not just nursing, but it is deeply hidden and woven into nursing culture. substantial and credible research has shown that this is a primary cause of turnover for young nurses- if they are unable to find a mentor, either in their nursing unit, hospital, or personally, they will quit their job or leave their profession within one year. the cost of a nurse leaving one position and turining to another is roughly $16,000-$22,000. for a nurse that leaves the profession, add on the cost of schooling to that, and the delay in replacing that nurse (~4yrs). as i've always said, anything can be mathematically quantified. :)

often when support systems for nurses are introduced they are quickly cut due to budgetary constraints. there are no immediate positive measures that can be seen with these types of programs. politically, they are often seen as a waste of money, when the hospital could be investing in hiring more nurses (and the burnout cycle continues) or to invest more in capital (which needs nurses to function). this brings me to the idea that the four year political cycle is the key detriment in precluding any substantial long-term change.

even when these resources are in place, nurses need to be taught how to use them, and to notice that they need them. this needs to be seen as the other part of providing good patient care. but, as you said, this would need a massive cultural shift. no reason to stop trying, just need to find a way to begin this shift.

just as a funny note, today i am compiling a report on the productivity of nurses in the last decade in manitoba.

Thursday, May 04, 2006 12:11:00 PM  

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