Praying seems the least I can do for my more afflicted friends. But it brings a lot of problems. First, they may be highly indignant if they find out. I am saddened to see them trudging through bereavement or cancer without the support that a belief in a loving God or universe can give. That is counter-balanced, however, by the despair of committed believers who can't come to terms with: “Why did God let this happen to me?”
So, morally, I can't pray for the atheists – theological rape. For those left, does it work? According to Larry Dossey's reports on prayers and plants, yes: tomato seedlings grew better. But be careful what you pray for! Don't lay down the law to God. When prayers specified a result, the results often boomeranged. Where plants were requested to grow bigger, they outgrew their strength. Think of the effect of asking that a cancer sufferer's cells are strong – which ones?
So my compromise is to pray for the “best outcome” and trust the universe is wiser than I. The atheists I send love to.
But what I hadn't reckoned on was that it is draining concentrating on the ill, the dying and the bereaved, especially just before sleep. The world seems grayer. The obvious solution, to be grateful for my blessings, seems crass in the face of my friends' suffering. So I now try to end off by celebrating the joy and happiness of those friends who are flourishing: a friend in remission, a newly engaged couple, a new grandmother.
Joy and happiness spread to those around according to research at the Unversity of Warwick. When I was ill in the eighties, I couldn't cope with more distress. As I said to Bill after coffee with my friends, “If just one of them had good news, it would help me believe in life.”
When my mother died, I was so grateful for signs of continued life: ducklings and a confetti of butterflies. And like those butterflies, one small act of joy may ripple to someone somewhere else. If we do indeed create our world from our consciousness, then it is surely life-giving to pump oxygen into the good that surrounds us, while always carrying in our hearts those in travail.
Healing Words: the Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine by Larry Dossey MD
Happiness Spreads but Depression Doesn't – University of Warwick Study