Ruth Link, 92, lies in a hospital bed clutching the hand of longtime chaplain Jim Ivey as he kneels beside her in prayer.
Calling on the name of the Lord Jesus, Ivey prays that Link, who has been plagued with swelling from a kidney problem, will be able to go home as quickly as possible.
“I love praying for people because I believe that prayer works,” said Ivey, who has been ministering to Link for more than a week. “Any time I can spend praying or talking or just comforting, that’s a wonderful thing.”
More than 60 years after the establishment of an annual National Day of Prayer in the United States, prayer remains an important source of solace and strength for some people who are going through crises, such as sickness.
“Some people … do not want prayer and let you know that, but if they have some sort of a religious affiliation, prayer is almost an obligatory part of the rituals that surround illness and dying,” said medical ethicist Paul Simmons, a clinical professor at the University of Louisville.
Whether prayers for health or healing actually work is a matter of debate. Study results have been mixed.
But “prayer does seem to make a difference for many, many people,” said Dr. Harold G. Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at the Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina. “Whether it’s prayer or whether it’s some other religious activity, it does seem as though it helps them.”
In some studies, religious activity has been “associated with better health across the board, from better coping to better psychological health to better social functioning, better health behaviors and better physical health,” he said.
Religious activity could include praying, Bible reading, attending services or volunteering for religious reasons.
“Some patients believe that prayer is essential to their healing,” said Ivey, a 15-year chaplain at Baptist Health Louisville. “Some patients just like having that extra support.”
“According to the Bible, your faith helps to heal you,” he said. “The patient’s faith is a big part of it.”
Link said she’s Catholic and deeply appreciates Ivey’s visits.
“I’ve had a lot of problems over the years,” she said. “God has answered my prayers. He just heard me.”
In the 2006 book Blind Faith, author Richard P. Sloan rejects the notion that religion can cure anyone. He also notes that ethical problems can arise when physicians try to bring religion into clinical care and that physicians’ religious inquiries can take away time from discussing issues such as smoking and diet that can effect disease.
In the book, Sloan, an expert in behavioral medicine, also criticizes the quality of some studies linking religion to better health and says that trying “to study religion using the methods of science trivializes the transcendent aspects of religion.”
The Rev. Ron Robinson, interim pastor of Shawnee Presbyterian Church in Louisville, doesn’t rely on studies as proof of the power of prayer. He has his own personal story.
Robinson said he believes that God healed him in 2008 when routine testing revealed that he had an elevated level of prostate specific antigen, a possible indication of prostate cancer.
“I went to St. Martin’s, the Eucharist Room. I went day after day, sometimes two times a day, and I prayed,” he said. “Then I stopped praying and started listening. That’s a part of prayer. … Prayer became contemplation. Contemplation became strength.”
Robinson said he heard God’s voice as he was being prepared for surgery and credits God with the positive outcome: Tissue samples revealed no prostate cancer.
“I believe that any person can call out, irrespective of what place they are in life,” Robinson said.
Attempts to study prayer have not always come out positively. A study published in the American Heart Journal in 2006 found that being prayed for by others had no effect on complication-free recovery from heart surgery.
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SOURCE: The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal – Darla Carter