PRAYER IS ONE OF THE ESSENTIAL activities of human life. Throughout history it has nurtured our grandest visions and provided meaning and purpose to our activities. It is impossible to imagine the evolution of any culture without prayer. Prayer is universal; we know of no society in which it does not take place.
Prayer has many faces. There are prayers of petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and adoration. But one thread connects all prayer: Whatever form it may take, prayer is a bridge to the Absolute, a way of connecting with something higher, wiser, and more powerful than the individual self.
Many people believe that prayer is old-fashioned in our modern, scientific age, that prayer and science are incompatible, and that prayer belongs to the category of superstition and fantasy. One of the great ironies of the modern age, however, is that proponents of prayer and proponents of science are engaged in a new and amazing dialogue. This is happening in three different ways.
First, a high proportion of scientists today believe in a Supreme Being who answers prayer. This may come as a shock to people who have been taught that genuine scientists cannot simultaneously believe in the Absolute and do good science. In 1997, however, researchers surveyed American biologists, physicists, and mathematicians about their religious beliefs. They found that 39% believe in God, specifically, they believe in the kind of God who responds to prayer. The highest percentage of believers was found among mathematicians, who practice what many consider the purest kind of science that exists. And so we see that the prevalent views that science is godless, that atheists make
the best scientists, and that prayer and science cannot coexist are simply stereotypes to be challenged.
Second, medical scientists studying the effects of prayer have found compelling evidence of the benefits of prayer, meditation, and relaxation on individuals who pray. The body appears to like prayer and responds in healthy ways in the cardiovascular, immune, and other systems. But even more interesting are studies showing that intercessory or distant prayer also has an effect, even when the individual being prayed for is unaware of the prayer being offered and is at a great distance from the person prayering. These studies are numerous, have been replicated by many scientists, and have involved not only humans but non-humans as the prayer recipients. This latter point is important: If prayer's effects extend to animals and plants, they cannot be ascribed only to positive thinking or the placebo response.
The third major development heralding a synthesis of science and prayer is the recent emergence of scientific theories on the nature of consciousness? In general, these views go beyond the old idea that the effects of the mind are confined to one's individual brain and body. These new theories permit consciousness to act outside the physical body, perhaps through intercessory prayer. In light of these new ways of thinking about consciousness, it no longer seems outrageous to suggest that prayer might act at a distance to bring about actual changes in the world.
In studies of intercessory prayer, researchers have found no correlation between the religious affiliation of the praying individual and the effects of the prayer. This affirms the view that prayer is universal, that it belongs not just to a specific religion but to the entire human race. These findings sanction the importance of religious tolerance, asking us to honor the prayers and spiritual visions of other religious traditions, no matter how radically they differ from our oven.
Although personal religion does not correlate with prayer's effects in experimental studies, there is a quality that does make a great difference. It is a factor that sounds quite old-fashioned: love. Without love, the prayer experiments don't work as well, in fact, they often fall flat. As a physician, this finding intrigues me, because healers throughout history have uniformly proclaimed the importance of compassion, caring, and empathy for the patient. The best physicians I know honor the power of love and care in healing. They believe that, while penicillin is powerful, penicillin plus love is more powerful still.
It is on these two issues in particular--the role of religious tolerance and the place of love and compassion in prayer--that I feel especially connected with Mother Teresa's work and writings. As Tony Stern points out in his introduction to this volume, Mother Teresa stated, "I've always said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic."
There is a related story about Mother Teresa that attests to her tolerance, one that I have always adored, although it may be apocryphal. A brash young reporter once asked her, "Are you a saint?" Without hesitating, she poked the young man in the chest with a gnarled finger and said, "Yes, and so are you!"
Mother Teresa would undoubtedly insist that prayer does not need science to validate it, and I would agree. People test prayer every day in their lives, and life is the most important experimental laboratory of all. But, since science is one of the most powerful factors guiding modern life, we would be foolish to disregard what science has to say about prayer, particularly since so many of its comments are positive.
One of the most remarkable trends in modern medicine is the return to prayer. Three years ago, only three medical schools in the United States had courses exploring the role of religion and spiritual practice in health; currently nearly thirty do? First-rate researchers are examining the effects of prayer in healing at various medical schools, hospitals, and research institutions; national conferences linking spirituality and healthcare are becoming routine.
Somewhere, Mother Teresa must be smiling.
"Mother Teresa was one of the great spiritual servants of our era, whose simple wisdom expressed untold depths of devotion. In this treasury of her thoughts on prayer, she offers the world another blessing." - --PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER. author of Living Faith
"Using this book on prayer, please remember that Mother Teresa always prayed with her actions, her life. Mind, speech and body in perfect oneness, that is the solid ground of authentic meditation. The moment you start praying that way, peace, love, and transformation begin to take place, within yourself and around you. You do not have to wait for the result in the future, Mother Teresa says:
the fruit of prayer is faith, love, service and peace. All of these take place in the present moment. Enjoy praying with her." --THICH NHAT HANH, author of Living Buddha, Living Christ
"Mother Teresa's life was a living prayer. Her words remind us of her connection with God and how all of us can reach him as she did." --MARIANNE WILLIAMSON, author of Illuminated Prayers
'With the publication of Everything Starts From Prayer, Mother Teresa continues to bless us from beyond the grave. These kernels of truths from the nun of Calcutta provide food for the soul. Her messages, though short on words, are deep in wisdom and spiritual insight, and hold meaning for people of all faiths." --MOST REVEREND ANTHONY M. PILLA, Bishop of Cleveland, President, National Conference of Catholic Bishops
"Dr. Stern's editorial hand is sure and judicious; the selection of material reveals the mystical realization behind Mother Teresa's powerful encomium to prayer in an all-inclusive sense. Thus, the
passages are not only spiritually inspiring (as one would, of course, expect), but intellectually compelling as well. Well done!" --LOU NORDSTROM, American Zen Teacher
"Dr. Stern deserves to be congratulated for Everything Starts from Prayer, an inspiring book intended to foster the spiritual life of people of all faiths or none. We hope and pray that many readers will find it an invitation to pray" - FATHER EDWARD LE JOLY, Mother Teresa's spiritual advisor
"It is wonderful that a psychiatrist whose work is to seek healing as well as understanding of human beings has thought to gather Mother Teresa's thoughts on prayer. This small book may be Mother Teresa's greatest legacy because it reveals the prayerful orientation that made her life -- and can
make ours -- so fruitful." - POLLY BERRIEN BERENDS, author of Coming to Life: Traveling the
Spiritual Path in Everyday Life
"How do we start praying? Dr. Anthony Stern gives us a great gift. In this magnificent collection of Mother Teresa's words, we are shown how to cultivate our inner lives and bring forth the prayers that live within us." - PROF. SUSANNAH HESCHEL, author of Abraham Geiger and the
"These beautiful prayer instructions transcend all boundaries of time and space. Here Mother Teresa is a universal figure reaching out from soul-to-soul to all those who pray or long to pray May her words reach many and open hearts." --RABBI ARTHUR GREEN, coeditor of Your Word is Fire: The Hasidic Masters on Contemplative Prayer
"Dr. Stern has very sensitively and carefully given us the essence of a truly spiritual person, and in the process helped make prayer in our own lives more rewarding." - RABBI JACK BEMPORAD, Director, The Center for Interreligious Understanding at Ramapo College
"With this simple, beautiful book, Dr. Stern has done a wonderful job making Mother Teresa's thoughts on man's relationship to God accessible to all." - SWAMI CHETANANADA, author of Choose to be Happy
"Mother Teresa is a holy mother to us all. She has always been an inspiration and reminder to me of what love can do in the world. She is the epitome of a Bodhisattva, the altruistic enlightenment-activist serving those suffering in this world." - LAMA SURYA DAS, Tibetan Buddhist master and author of Awakening the Buddha Within
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