The religious community has never doubted the power of prayer to heal body, mind, and spirit. For thousands of years, in cultures around the world, the faithful have sought divine intervention to relieve suffering and attract blessings. Witches view prayer as a means of communicating with the Divine. That communication may take the form of a request, gratitude, worship, or simply opening up to Spirit.
John Bunyan, a seventeenth-century English preacher and writer, said that prayer is “sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the soul to God.” American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson described prayer as “a study of truth.” The Unity Church calls prayer an “inward, silent knowing of the soul … of the presence of God.”
Like meditation, praying calms the mind and body, placing you in a gently altered state of consciousness where you can receive insights and guidance. On the physical level, blood pressure drops, heartbeat slows, breathing rate is lowered, and the adrenal glands secrete fewer of the stress-response hormones.
The Components of Prayer
Many prayer groups believe forgiveness is also an important ingredient in prayer. According to C. Norman Shealy, M.D., Ph.D., founder of the American Holistic Medical Association, “Forgiveness produces miracles; lack of forgiveness inhibits miracles.” Others suggest that prayer is a demonstration of hope. As magicians know, hopefulness and a positive attitude have the power to manifest beneficial results.
Surrender is another important component of prayer. In her bestselling book A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson writes, “Through openness and receptivity on the part of human consciousness, spirit is allowed to infuse our lives, to give them meaning and direction.”
Prayer, of course, is more than mere words. It is part of a complete, unified attitude that brings body, mind, emotions, and spirit together. Prayer fosters a state of receptivity, awareness, trust, forgiveness, and gratitude, from which all things are possible.
How to Pray
Prayer can take many forms, from the formal repetition in a church or temple of memorized verses taken from a religious text to feeling grateful for a beautiful sunny day. You can pray silently or aloud, alone or with others, for yourself or someone else. You can pray to God, the Goddess, a Divine Spirit, the All-knowing Power of the Universe, your guardian angels, the ancestors — whatever presence you feel guides your life. You can pray first thing in the morning, before meals, at bedtime — or when you're stuck in traffic, in the shower, at your computer, or taking a walk in the park.
You can even join an online prayer group. The Internet offers hundreds of sites where you can post a prayer request, respond to others who currently need help, or read the personal testimonies of people who believe they've been helped by prayers. Some prayer groups “meet” in online chat rooms, blog sites, and specialized prayer subgroups for women, children, etc.
The Power of Prayer
Whether you pray for yourself or someone else, your words have amazing power. According to Larry Dossey, M.D., in cases of intercessory prayer (praying for someone else at a distance) the consciousness of whoever is doing the praying actually influences the body of the person who is being prayed for. Though this may sound strange to some people, shamans and witches have utilized this phenomenon for centuries to aid the healing process.
One highly visible case is that of former New York Jets football player Dennis Byrd, who broke his neck in a game and was paralyzed. Byrd's doctors thought he'd never walk again, but he does and he credits prayer with being a factor in his remarkable recovery.
Larry Dossey, M.D. discovered that “more than 130 controlled laboratory studies show that prayer, or a prayerlike state of compassion, empathy and love, can bring about healthful changes.” A survey by the National Institutes of Health found more than 250 studies that supported the beneficial effect of prayer on a range of illnesses including cancer, heart disease, colitis, and hypertension.
Prayer is a highly personal matter and you can pray in myriad ways. However, certain practices and attitudes are more likely to produce beneficial results than others. Prayer isn't begging or pleading with the God or Goddess to give you what you want — it's humbly aligning your personal will with Divine Will. When you pray, you commit yourself to co-creating the best possible outcome, in conjunction with and under the guidance of a higher power.
Here are some guidelines that can help you pray effectively.
Relax and “let go” (through breathing, meditation, yoga, music, etc.), so that you can still the mind and shift your awareness from the mundane world to the world of Spirit.
Forgive yourself and others.
Release fears and doubts.
Give thanks for the blessings in your life and for Divine Intervention in previous situations.
Be clear about what you want and hold this image in your mind's eye as intensely as possible.
State your request aloud or silently, but try not to be so specific that you don't allow room for God to work “in mysterious ways.”
Turn over your request to a higher power, trusting that it will be taken care of in accordance with Divine Will.
Be willing to do your part to bring about what you've asked for. If you have no power to influence what happens, release it and be willing to accept whatever Divine Will decides.
Listen for a response or guidance in some form — an impression, insight, vision, awareness, physical sensation, even actual words.
When your prayer is answered, express your gratitude. Rejoice and be thankful.
Perhaps the most important part of effective prayer — and the most difficult part — is faith. You may have heard the biblical saying that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains. If you don't truly believe your prayers will be answered — even if the outcome isn't quite what you envision — your skepticism will interfere with the prayer's success.