Empirical studies have repeatedly shown that intercessory prayer has no effect on those prayed for. Still, I do it anyway, as much for myself as for those I pray for every night at bedtime.
In one 2006 study of coronary patients, not only did prayer have no effect on the outcomes for patients who were prayed for, those who knew they were being prayed for had more complications than those who didn’t. I’m guessing the statistics are simply meaningless. But I suppose those who knew they were being prayed for could have become anxious that their condition might be worse than they thought.
My evening prayer is about 500 words long and names some 75 individuals (family, friends, and a few passing acquaintances) who have been sick and dying at some point. I pray for the well-being of those I love and for relief from suffering for those who are ill.
Many of the sick people I have prayed for have died, but I keep right on praying for them anyway. It might seem pointless, but, frankly, it’s a matter of memory. It’s a way of remembering them and of remembering my prayer. If anything interrupts me – someone speaking to me, a phone call, an errant thought – I have to start all over from the beginning. Editing out the dead would only make memorization that much more difficult.
My nightly prayers for the sick and dying are primarily an act of well-wishing and hoping for their recovery or deliverance from suffering. They are an expression of my spiritual aspirations. It makes no difference to me whether God exists, whether one church or another is the one true religion, or whether prayer has the power to change anything. I may just be talking to myself, but I have to try.
My prayer begins with thanks and a request for forgiveness of sins. Then I seek blessings for loved ones and mercy for the sick, some of whom, as I said, have died and some gotten well since I added them to my prayer list. Some people might be surprised that they are in my prayers every night.
I offer a special request for peace of mind for those with dementia before tolling the names of the sick and dying. After that, I ask for consolation for the bereaved, mostly friends who have lost their spouses.
The penultimate category might be called topical issues. I ask blessings for those who suffer from COVID-19, those who love them, and those who care for them and offer thanks for being shown the way out of the pandemic. I then make a weak attempt to save the world with a single sentence petition that humans might find a way to peace in Ukraine and to end gun violence in America. Sometimes I add climate change, but I’ve pretty much given up on that.
I do not believe God is responsible for what happens to human beings. It’s on us.
I pray all of this in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, who taught us to pray. I then end by reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
This whole invocation of a higher power takes less than 10 minutes of the 1,440 minutes in a day. That’s less than 1 percent of my day. It may be pointless, but I figure it’s a small enough effort to make on behalf of becoming a better man in a better world.
Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.