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“What, no wooden legs” wrote Anatole France, upon seeing the discarded canes and crutches on a visit to Lourdes. Anatole France was a French poet, journalist, and novelist (Died 1924). What he wanted to say was that if miracles do take place in Lourdes people with amputated legs should be able to grow new legs in place of the amputated ones. He would conclude that where people have less control over their circumstances, they are likelier to seek recourse to prayer or rituals to tide over difficulties.

What about those people who pray for healing at Lourdes? Healing is the process of making or becoming sound or healthy again. In the Catholic Church healing is often attached to Charismatic movement. Some Catholic Charismatic communities conduct healing services, gospel power services, outreaches and evangelizations where the presence of the Holy Spirit is felt, and healings and miracles take place.

Miracle is an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause. In the classic Miracles, C.S. Lewis, the most important Christian writer of the 20th century, argues that a Christian must not only accept but rejoice in miracles as a testimony of the unique personal involvement of God in his creation.

A cure is the end of a medical condition; the substance or procedure that ends the medical condition, such as a medication, a surgical operation, a change in lifestyle, or even a philosophical mindset that helps end a person’s sufferings.

Is prayer the tool of those who have no access to modern way of living?

Some studies claimed that patients who are being prayed for recover more quickly or more frequently although critics have claimed that the methodologies of such studies are flawed, and the perceived effect disappears when controls are tightened. One such study, with a double-blind design and about 500 subjects per group, was published in 1988; it suggested that intercessory prayer by born again Christians had a statistically significant positive effect on a coronary care unit population. Critics contend that there were severe methodological problems with this study. Another such study was reported by Harris et al. Critics also claim that the 1988 study was not fully double-blinded, and that in the Harris study, patients actually had a longer hospital stay in the prayer group, if one discounts the patients in both groups who left before prayers began, although the Harris study did demonstrate the prayed for patients on average received better recovery.

One of the largest randomized, blind clinical trials was a remote retroactive intercessory prayer study conducted in Israel by Leibovici. This study used 3393 patient records from 1990–96, and blindly assigned some of these to an intercessory prayer group. The prayer group had shorter hospital stays and duration of fever.

Several studies of prayer effectiveness have yielded null results. A 2001 double-blind study of the Mayo Clinic found no significant difference in the recovery rates between people who were assigned to a group that prayed for them and those who were not. Similarly, the MANTRA study conducted by Duke University found no differences in outcome of cardiac procedures as a result of prayer. In another similar study published in the American Heart Journal in 2006, Christian intercessory prayer when reading a scripted prayer was found to have no effect on the recovery of heart surgery patients; however, the study found patients who had knowledge of receiving prayer had slightly higher instances of complications than those who did not know if they were being prayed for or those who did not receive prayer. Another 2006 study suggested that prayer actually had a significant negative effect on the recovery of cardiac bypass patients, resulting in more frequent deaths and slower recovery time for those patients who received prayers.

I would say these studies reduce something that is metaphysical to physical and empirical. The power of prayer is experienced by each one of us. The testimonies for effectiveness of prayer are running through the entire history of humanity. It is not only the patrimony of Christian Churches but also a universally acknowledged fact across the religions. The many Charismatic retreats that are held in the month of July all over the North East give importance to healing. Moreover there are new retreat centers coming up in the North East that are in the stream of charismatic spirituality. In Assam especially we have such centers in Margherita and Khetri. We hope and pray that we too shall have a retreat centre of our own in the diocese of Bongaigaon soon!

+Thomas Pulloppillil

 

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