A patient of mine was dying from lung cancer. The day before his death, I sat at his bedside with his wife and children. He knew he had little time left and he chose his words carefully, speaking in a hoarse whisper. Although not a religious person, he revealed to us that recently he had begun to pray frequently.
“What do you pray for?” I asked.
“I don’t pray for anything,” he responded. “How would I know what to ask for?” This was surprising. Surely this dying man could think of some request.
“If prayer is not for asking, what is it for?” I pushed him.
“It isn’t ‘for’anything,” he said thoughtfully. “It mainly reminds me I am not alone.”
Jiddu Krishnamurti, one of the most revered spiritual teachers of this century, once asked a small group of listeners what they would say to a close friend who is about to die. Their answers dealt with assurances, words about beginnings and endings, and various gestures of compassion. Krishnamurti stopped them short. There is only one thing you can say to give the deepest comfort, he said. Tell him that in his death a part of you dies and goes with him. Wherever he goes, you go also. He will not be alone.
Prayer is like that. It is our tie to the Absolute, a reminder of our nonlocal, unbounded nature, of that part of us that is infinite in space and time and is Divine. It is the Universe’s affirmation that we are immortal and eternal, that we are not alone.
We do not know why prayer reveals itself in scientific experiments, but we have seen that it does. What if it did not? Would it be less real?
In spite of its reputation as the most powerful arbiter of reality, it is nowhere written down that science is the only or the best gateway to what is real. We invented the scientific method; it did not descend from on high. Even if science’s verdict on prayer were completely negative, that would necessarily be the end of the story. And let us not deceive ourselves: Although science has much to say about prayer, it raises more questions than it answers. The mysteries of prayer not only remain, they deepen.
As we play the science-and-prayer game, as we have done in this book, let us always recall that it is only a game, a form of play. If play is to be genuine, it must be lighthearted and pursued without purpose. That is why we usually fail if we try to have fun. And that is also one reason that trying to “prove prayer” can be unsatisfying, in spite of the positive outcome of so many controlled experiments. Ultimately statistics don’t satisfy, numbers don’t nourish. So in spite of science’s positive revelations about prayer, we continue to look beyond the laboratory to affirm the importance and meaning of prayer in our lives.
When we pray for the resolution of pain and suffering or any of the countless ways life tests us, and the prayer is not answered, it is not comforting to be reminded of prayer’s “statistical significance” in a hundred laboratory experiments. At such moments it is only our “experiment” that counts. Why, we may lament, is the effect of prayer not more predictable, powerful, dependable? We need to recall at these times that a prayer, in its function as a bridge to the Absolute. It works 100 percent of the time — unless we prevent this realization by remaining oblivious to it.
We may wonder why prayer is so paradoxical and unpredictable, but the most astonishing fact is simply that it works at all — and not only in ways that can be tested in laboratory experiments, but in the most glorious and benevolent way imaginable — as a reminder of our origin and destiny: the Absolute, the Universal, the Divine.
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