I wrote a whole section of my thesis on prayer’s “ineffectiveness” according to many pieces of wisdom literature (blog post on my thesis coming soon). And yet, I still pray. I still go to services and want to become a rabbi. So why do I pray? Why do I ask for prayers?
A few days ago, an immediate family member was in the hospital, and I felt paralyzed. I was too overwhelmed to individually message each of my amazing friends and community members. So I asked for prayers from the Brandeis Jewish Community (see my other blog post about how much I love it). I was met not only with people who said that they would pray for my family member but also with an outpouring of love and support. This experience got me thinking once again about the benefits and dangers of prayer:
Let’s start with the benefits:
- I live in a different state than most of my friends. They are unable to come to the hospital or sit with me physically, but them saying that they are praying for me and my family helps to comfort and support me. It is a way to feel “in community” without my physical community around.
- As a religious person, asking for “prayers,” allows me to ask for support in a way that feels more comfortable to me. Vulnerability and fear especially, are very hard emotions to let oneself feel, but making a request like this is a way to show them with very little risk.
- I am/was powerless in this situation. I am not his doctor. I cannot do anything physically, and at the moment I asked for those prayers, I could not even be in the room with him. But prayer, both my own and others’, allows me to feel some sense of agency even if it is false (studies show that the difference in how percieved agency feels and how actual agency feels is not substantial).
There are a few dangers with endorsing the “power of prayer.” I am not advocating for prayer over seeking medical attention or acting in ways to improve the situation. From my perspective, it can help emotionally as an “add on” to actual actions that one takes, and it really isn’t doing much harm when used in that way. And for those of us who are religious, it brings more comfort than anything else can.