Food for Thought
A fascinating and dramatic development is occurring in how Americans think about what makes us healthy or sick, happy or sad. Through scientific research, it has become increasingly apparent that spirituality buffers us against many of the ills we experience in life.
This Food for Thought space will be devoted to taking a look at two paramount questions: what makes spirituality, in general, and prayer, in particular, so compelling, and how do they convey their life-giving effects? We’ll be talking about prayer and the role of prayer in healing, gratitude, forgiveness, spiritual meaning-making, stress reduction, and finding a sense of direction and purpose in life. We’ll be thinking about how prayer exerts a healing effect and how our healthcare experts have come to employ spirituality in treatment protocols.
One of the first things we learned by studying prayer, is just how common it is for Americans to pray. The Pew Research Center’s U.S. Religious Landscape Study, conducted in 2014, reports that 86 % of highly religious respondents said they relied a lot on prayer and personal religious reflection when making major life decisions, and significantly, 29 % of respondents who were not highly religious said the same thing. It seems that, even among Americans who are not highly religious or who are religiously unaffiliated, roughly a third to a fourth are communicating with God about important aspects of their lives.
I hope Food for Thought will be a glimpse at what science can tell us about our prayer lives, and how prayer can influence our health. You might think of it as a discussion of the science of prayer or, of the spirit within each of us. Many people, perhaps most, enjoy learning about what makes us strong. We want to achieve a “big picture” understanding of why we feel better or more grounded after praying or meditating. This space is where we can pursue that level of understanding.
Food for Thought is about making thoughtful connections and I want to share a personal early connection that is still thought- provoking and meaningful to me. As a student, I read William James, a famous Harvard professor writing in the early twentieth century, who believed that we are all in contact with the universe and that we can and do receive messages (perhaps nudges) into our unconscious mind. Later, these messages may emerge in our conscious thought as answers or directions we need to pursue. I found that I was often moved by experiences of asking the universe for help and receiving it, often in disguised or hidden forms. Sometimes, insights or answers seemed to just percolate up to the surface, even when I was most discouraged. What I like about James’ connection is that it suggests that we need to listen to the nudges, to value intuition and feeling. Is this consistent with your experience? You may want to give this some thought!