Tags: U.S. | Funds | Prayer | Research

U.S. Funds Prayer Research

Tuesday, 14 November 2000 12:00 AM

The project was centered on black women in the early stages of breast cancer. According to Research News, blacks were chosen over whites because "African American women have a higher propensity to use spiritual healing than white women."

Moreover, "They have been found to be more vulnerable to stress associated with postoperative social functioning." The paper pointed to scientific evidence that stress weakens the mechanisms of a person's immune system. This increased the likelihood that a patient's tumor will recur or spread.

One task of the research project was to learn if a statement from the Epistle of James can be "scientifically validated," the journal said, The text reads, "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him" (James 5:14).

The study was conducted by Dr. Diane Becker of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.; and Dr. Harold G. Koenig of Duke University in Durham, N.C. Koenig, an associate professor of medicine and psychiatry, has been studying the effects of religion on health for 15 years.

A Johns Hopkins research nurse was randomly recruiting 40 patients with early breast cancer that has neither spread to other organs nor infiltrated the fatty tissue, muscle or bone around the breast. The study does not begin until one or two months after surgery and radiation treatment, Research News explained.

The participants would then meet a "comfort leader." This is a cancer survivor known for her strong religious convictions and prayer life. She "has been specially trained to be a witness to the women recovering from breast cancer."

The "comfort leader" will help the patient to organize and run a prayer group that may include five to eight friends or members of her church. For 24 weeks they are to follow a special prayer guide containing messages from the Bible.

The patient and her group will then pursue an ancient Judeo-Christian way of communicating with the Divine. It is called Centering Prayer, was practiced in the Medieval Church and then almost forgotten until three Trappist monks in Spencer, Mass., rediscovered it in the 1970s.

At any given time, participants of a Centering Prayer session choose only one sacred word from Scripture. This word – for example, grace, love, mercy, or Jesus – would serve as a symbol of the supplicant's consent to God's presence and action.

In Becker and Koenig's research project, the patients and their groups are to meet twice a day at a quiet place for at least 20 minutes. They are to close their eyes and silently think the Scriptural word they have previously agreed upon. The idea is that they would be resting in God. Should their thoughts drift, they would return to their chosen word to focus once again on the Divine.

The method differs from the ritualized and conversational prayers of traditional Christianity and meditation as practiced by Eastern religions. In Centering Prayer sessions, participants "avoid analyzing their experience, harboring expectations or aiming at some specific goal such as repeating the sacred words continuously, having no thoughts, making the mind a blank, feeling peaceful, consoled, or achieving a spiritual presence," Research News writes.

"Those who guide centered prayer groups warn that often a person will feel tingling as the body relaxes," the paper reported. "This is just tension slowly oozing away." Another attribute of "deep spiritual attentiveness" is that one's extremities feel heavy.

Koenig hoped that in the long term the findings from this study "will give women and their religious communities a powerful tool for combating breast cancer." He said he believed that "getting the patients' minds off their disease makes a big difference."

Even more important, though, is that Centering Prayer would battle stress caused by cancer. It would do so by giving the patients "a sense of hope, social and psychological support, a positive belief system, and a sense of personal control through prayer."

While most religions teach that prayer intervention helps a patient, trying to validate "extra-personal spirituality" scientifically is a relatively new endeavor. One of its pioneers is Randolph C. Byrd, a San Francisco cardiologist. In 1988, he chronicled the therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a provoking study.

It analyzed 393 coronary care patients who were divided into two sections. One group was made up of patients who were not prayed for. But for the other group's members prayers were said regularly. Byrd discovered that the latter patients suffered significantly less from congestive heart failure, had fewer cardiopulmonary arrests, used fewer antibiotics and diuretics, had less pneumonia and were less frequently intubated.

Even more surprising," wrote the journal Science & Spirit, "is the revelation that the patients ... did not know that they were being prayed for, nor did their doctors." Science & Spirit concluded, "Byrd's study suggests that religiosity is a kind of antibiotic."

This is what Koenig trusted his research program would prove as well. According to Research News, "He hopes that research such as this will open the door to more studies on the effect that prayer may have on other diseases influenced by immune system activity, including AIDS."

Copyright 2000 by United Press International.

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The project was centered on black women in the early stages of breast cancer. According to Research News, blacks were chosen over whites because African American women have a higher propensity to use spiritual healing than white women. Moreover, They have been found to...
Tuesday, 14 November 2000 12:00 AM
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