The Power of Prayer Brings a Higher Force into Play
by Ted Slavinpublished in St. Catharines Standard
St. Catharines, Ontario: 2011
Two months ago, the unthinkable happened: the young son of our close family friends was seriously hurt in an accident. He was rushed to hospital by helicopter and placed in a medically-induced coma in an attempt to keep his brain from swelling and causing more damage than had already been done. His condition upon waking from the coma would determine what the next steps might be for him.
In such times, a natural response for many is turning to prayer, and many did just that. People of different religions were praying not only in different communities in Canada, but internationally, too.
Having prayed many times for the healing of friends and family, I reflected on what I was doing and why.
How is it, I asked myself, that the act of reciting words in worship can have any impact on the healing of the body, or on someone else who is far away? How does prayer have an influence on the physical world?
From a Bahá'í perspective, there are a few givens. One is that God is all-powerful and we are, in comparison, powerless. It only makes sense for the powerless to ask for the assistance of the all-powerful. We are in need; He is giving -- we have an obvious relationship here. Still, if we are calling on God to assist in the healing of a little boy who, without prayers, may not fare as well, are we asking God to bend the rules a little?
Granted, He's the maker of the rules in the first place, but given the amazing structure and order of the natural world (including the laws that govern it), I've often had that nagging question of how prayer can have an effect. Can prayer interfere with the laws of nature?
It just didn't seem to make sense.
Recently, by accident, I came across an answer that put me at ease. Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era is a book about the core teachings of the Bahá'í faith written by Dr. J.E. Esslemont, first published in the 1920s and, with revisions to keep it current, is an excellent introduction to the faith. A copy of this book was always in my home growing up and I'd referred to it many, many times.
But somehow I missed or had forgotten this explanation of the relationship between prayer and natural law: "If a magnet be held over some iron filings, the latter will fly upwards and cling to it, but this involves no interference with the law of gravitation. The force of gravity continues to act on the filings just as before. What has happened is that a superior force has been brought into play -- another force whose action is just as regular and calculable as that of gravity. The Bahá'í view is that prayer brings into action higher forces, as yet comparatively little known; but there seems no reason to believe that these forces are more arbitrary in their action than the physical forces. The difference is that they have not yet been fully studied and experimentally investigated, and their action appears mysterious and incalculable because of our ignorance.
"... In the Bahá'í view, the power that brings about answers to prayer is the inexhaustible Power of God. The part of the suppliant is only to exert the feeble force necessary to release the flow or determine the course of the Divine Bounty, which is ever ready to serve those who have learned how to draw upon it."The day after I discovered this passage, I learned that our friends' son, despite being nonresponsive for two months, was squeezing his parents' fingers on command.
He will be undergoing rehabilitation, and the road ahead will be a long one for him and his family, but the answer to our collective prayers seems to be a happy one.