I wasn't raised to believe in the power of prayer to help others. It was, I learned, a way to honor our ancestors and our history, and a way to motivate ourselves to be better people. Yet our family never missed a High Holiday service. There was a mysterious something that drew us to be together with large numbers of Jews on those days, an inchoate longing for the possibility that prayer could change our lives.
"U'teshuvah, u'tfillah, u'tzedakah ma'avirin et roa hagezerah," the cantor would chant. "But returning to God, and prayer, and charity lessen the severe decree." Maybe, I thought. Maybe not.
In my midthirties, in the midst of a personal transition, I went to synagogue and uttered my first heartfelt, totally committed prayer. "Dear God," I said. "I do not know if You exist, but if You do and let me know You do, I will listen and follow." At the end of the service, I knew I had been heard. A flame of love had been lit in my heart that drew me to the synagogue and Torah study, to the rabbinate, and to a mission of teaching the power of prayer.
...Our prayerbooks and Bible form the basis on which we learn to connect to the Divine, and to share God's blessings with those in need. In my classes on meditation and personal prayer, I teach people to give blessings to each other as a form of prayer. Most people find it so much easier to pray for others than themselves. This is especially helpful in doing the hard work of forgiveness that this season of repentance calls on us to do. Our tradition teaches that God will not forgive us on Yom Kippur for problems we've caused with other people. For that, we have to ask forgiveness of others. Sometimes the hurt and anger is such that complete repair seems impossible.
This is where prayer can help. I once had a student who was having terrible problems with his boss. Everything he did, the boss criticized. He was hurt, angry, and demoralized. Yet he needed the job. I said, "Bob" (not his real name), your boss is making you miserable because he's feeling miserable. Pray for him, send him light, ask that God ease his pain." Two weeks later, the relationship had shifted. The Boss had become appreciative, and the relationship was turned around. A miracle? Yes--to some. To others, a coincidence. For me, a demonstration of the power of prayer.
Much of my prayer time goes to sending healing prayers to others, either through words, visualizations, or sending of spiritual energy. Until the last few years, I didn't go out of my way to publicize this work. But now, Harvard University, my alma mater, has acknowledged the value of "distant healing," or "distant mental influence on biologic systems," by co-sponsoring a conference on this topic in December, 1998.
A most exciting research paper presented at this conference was "A Study of Distant Healing as an Adjunctive Intervention for People with Advanced AIDS." The research was begun in 1994 at California Pacific Medical Center. A pilot study with twenty patients yielded "the surprising finding of 40 percent mortality in the control group, but no deaths in the treatment group. This striking result occurred despite the fact that patients, physicians and researchers did not know who was in the treatment group," and that the two groups were "at a similar stage of illness." The confirmatory study included an additional forty patients.
Experienced healers were selected from around the country and asked to send healing to an assigned patient for an hour a day, six days a week, for ten weeks. The healers treated a different person each week. The major modalities used were prayer, meditation and visualization, and energetic healing techniques. Patients were followed for six months. At the end of this time, those in the treatment group had significantly lower illness severity scores, fewer hospitalizations, less depression and anxiety, and more vigor.
Our Jewish tradition of thousands of years does not need Harvard to say that prayer works. But for those of us raised to respect scientific inquiry it should be inspiring and comforting to know that science is proving that indeed, we can effect the world through prayer.
L'shanah tovah, may we have a good year, and may we be inspired and strengthened to work to make the coming year good for all.
Spiritual Healing Practices
Suggestions from RABBI SHOHAMA WIENER AND DR. ALAN DATTNER
The setting. Create or go to what for you is a sacred, safe healing space. This might be a favorite room where you feel peaceful, or a favorite place out in nature. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
1. Opening. Begin by singing or chanting inspiring words and melodies, or breathing deeply and smoothly in and out to bring your rhythms in tune with your true inner self, apart from your ordinary cares and concerns.
2. Study. Choose a passage from the prayer book, the Torah, or another inspirational book, and look deeply for its message to you today.
3. Appreciation. Think of at least ten different ways in which your life is blessed, and really allow yourself an inner experience of appreciation.
4. Forgiveness. This is an ongoing process of release of anger and hurt, so that you may be filled with your vision of G-d's healing power.
5. Visualization Prayer. Relax yourself, focusing on your breathing and the visualization of God's healing light filling your being. Direct the light towards any part of your body that needs healing.When you have completed your own visualization, you may send light out from your heart to anyone else who needs healing.
6. Verbal prayer. Imagine that you are standing before the open Ark, looking at the Torah. In your own words, ask for healing from the Source of Healing (Rofeh HaCholim). It may come in the form of hope, strength, or peace, in addition to physical relief.
7. Thanks (Modim). Offer thanks to the Source of Life (Makor HaChayyim) for all that you have received, and the blessings that have come through you.
8. Closing song. Sing another chant or prayer, gently returning your awareness to your surroundings.
To contact Shohama, email rebshohama (at) gmail (dot) com or phone 646 250-5497.
To arrange a consultation on medical alternatives, email drdattner (at) yahoo (dot) com or phone 914 316-3783.
© 2010, Rabbi Shohama Wiener and Alan M. Dattner, M.D.