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I have often question whether prayers work. In my early days of atheism, I was sure that prayers made no difference, but as I aged, mellowed and gained experience I found that prayers do work, but not in the ways the most would expect.

I do not believe in miracles. I have seen events of incalculable coincidence that have been called miracles, they happen all the time, but most go unnoticed or have a rational explanation. Mathematics tells us that if we have 23 people in a room then there is a 50% chance that two will have the same birthday. To most this is unintuitive, but it is how numbers work and nothing special. There is an old joke about a nerdy quantum physicist sat alone at a bar explaining to the barman that he is waiting for the girl of his dreams to appear from the quantum foam. The barman says that maybe he could hook up with the girl who just came in, to which he replies, “What are the chances of that happening.” The point here being that the nerd would not see a girl appearing out of thin air a miracle, while most of us would. I would not be in a rush to judge until I had some more information. Group action for the good is often seen as a miracle, where a movement sprouts out of nowhere to tackle some inequity or cause. I believe that this is as close to a miracle as we can get but it is driven by the overriding, yet often subverted, human desire to do good.

Many of us have had dreams of winning the lottery and I have no doubt that some have prayed for that dream as well. Do we expect that winning ticket to magically appear out of thin air? I think not, most know that their chances are greatly improved by having a ticket. You could buy one or you could search the sidewalks and trash cans looking for one. In both cases you have been spurred into action because of your prayer as you know that inaction would not work.

Similarly, we often pray for people to get better when they have been afflicted by some malady. Does it work? Well, we know that praying for someone to re-grow a lost limb does not work. We also know that praying for the resurrection of a lost soul does not work, so we often focus our prayers on the kin of living, that their grief be manageable and short lived. In the case of the ill patient, sometimes they recover and sometimes they do not. It seems that in these cases that the impact of prayer is hit or miss or that it was ignored because it was not consistent with some unknown divine plan. Or is it just the culmination of random coincidence.

This is not to say that prayer, or meditation as I prefer to call it, has no value. The action itself focuses the mind of the meditator to focus on the plight and needs of others. It changes the filter through which you see things and makes you more aware in your daily activity. If your thought has been to the homeless street dweller, you may be swayed to give them your loose change. If you meditated further on the heighten use of drugs and alcohol in the street community, you may be even swayed to buy and hand out an extra burger instead. If you are concerned about the health of a neighbor, I may spur you to visit and chat a while or drop off a casserole to help them out. The point here again is that your meditation has focused you to act on a situation. You can say that you are acting as a tool of the divine and I am perfectly fine with that interpretation, even if it does not gel with my belief.

There is another aspect of prayer that is also important, that is the impact of those thoughts on the receiver. I have never been able to perceive that someone is praying on my behalf, but I have no doubt that it has happened many times over the years. But, to know that there is someone out there who cares, has a healing capacity and a calming effect that should not be underestimated. The number of people who are in your corner also seems to matter to some extent.

The purpose of writing this is to get the reader (you) to understand what I believe is the true benefit of prayer and meditation. In the hope that some of you may have that “eureka” moment that could make your efforts more meaningful and fruitful. If I have one regret it is that no one explained this to me at a younger age. It was always rolled up and interwoven with the God thing and I could never understand why someone so powerful would need my prayers to do the right thing. Explained like this, it would have made much more sense. Well maybe not the quantum physics part.

Prayer is an expression of your love for fellow man, is a good starting point.
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