“Historically one is inclined to look upon science and religion as irreconcilable antagonists…I maintain that cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest incitement to scientific research…The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science…In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive.” – Albert Einstein from The World As I See It (as quoted in Integrative Cardiology: Complimentary and Alternative Medicine for the Heart. p 209. Krucoff M., Vogel J., et al. 2007)
Modern science is just now beginning to explore the measurable impact of spiritual practices, specifically the effects of prayer and meditation on health. Double-blind trials conducted by the MANTRA II study: six-month death and rehospitalization found a slight positive improvement in the probability of survival for patients who were prayed for by complete strangers off-site. Survivability was even higher when the patients knew they were being prayed for, and when the individuals offering prayers used the patients name. (p 216. ibid)
Most professional nursing schools now fully acknowledge the importance of spiritual support as an integral part of patient care. Studies have repeatedly shown a better prognosis, faster recover, and better overall wellbeing with patients who have a strong religious or spiritual affiliation; a sense of support from their spiritual or religious community; and belief in a higher power. (Medical-Surgical Nursing: Clinical Management for Positive Outcomes. Black J, Hawks J. et al. 2002)
Most hospitals now routinely employ chaplains and dedicate an area of the hospital for a chapel. And for good reason. Individual studies have shown that “skilled meditators can produce vasodilation, lower blood pressure, and lower heart rate.” (221, Integrative Cardiology) The National Institute of Health published a comprehensive study on Prayer and healing: A medical and scientific perspective on randomized controlled trials in which they confirm the benefits of meditation and prayer “to result in cardiorespiratory synchronization, to alter levels of melatonin and serotonin, to suppress corticostriatal glutamatergic neurotransmission, to boost the immune response, to decrease the levels of reactive oxygen species as measured by ultraweak photon emission, to reduce stress and promote positive mood states, to reduce anxiety and pain and enhance self-esteem and to have a favorable influence on overall and spiritual quality of life in late-stage disease. Interestingly, spiritual meditation has been found to be superior to secular meditation and relaxation in terms of decrease in anxiety and improvement in positive mood, spiritual health, spiritual experiences and tolerance to pain.” The study also concludes that prayer supported by spiritual practice is more effective than secular, or non-religious prayer.
Whether or not these benefits can be attributed to the so-called “placebo” effect is a certain consideration from the viewpoint of hard science. But even the best-trained doctors have stories of patients miraculously healing from a serious disease, tumors reducing in size or disappearing altogether, and patients who positively glow with an uncanny light in the face of mortality. I wonder if spirituality may forever elude the reach of science, and it is to this great mystery we must surrender.
From the viewpoint of a deeply spiritual, and not intensely scientific individual, there is no question that prayer works – but not, perhaps, in the same way that a car or computer “works”. Prayer, meditation, and spirituality are not mechanistic processes in which a + b = c. Furthermore, indigenous healing traditions and ancient spirituality share the concept of self-emptying, so that divine grace or universal energy may flow freely through the practitioner. It is never “I” who effects a cure, or transformation, or whatever the desired end may be. “It is God’s will.” “It is karma.” Even Einstein theorized in the realm of quantum physics the concept of “distant particle entanglement” or what he called “spooky actions at a distance” which may offer a more credible interpretation of the tangible effects of intangible actions.
There is yet more scientific research required by our modern, mechanistic culture before spiritual healing is once again afforded a central place in our health care system. Meanwhile, spiritual traditions around the world persist as they have for thousands of years, offering mythology, epistemology, philosophy, and the opportunity to engage with our evolution, to grow in kindness and compassion, and to surrender peacefully and with joy when we come face to face with our mortality.
Further recommended reading: Quantum Healing by Deepak Chopra, MD