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4/9/2013 10:46:00 AM
Academic work too complex for those content with simplicity of prayer
This is the cover of
This is the cover of "Testing Prayer: Science and Healing†by Candy Gunther Brown." The book is reviewed by Brian T. Olszewski. (CNS)
Catholic News Service

In its simplest form, prayer is talking to/listening to God. That's a beauty of prayer -- its simplicity. Thus, when one reads a title "Testing Prayer: Science and Healing," one can expect that it will be a complex volume. And it is.

While the topic might be fascinating, and while the depth and breadth to which she explores it might be admirable to those on an intellectual and academic par with Candy Gunther Brown, it is unlikely that those who seek healing for their illnesses through the power of prayer, at healing Masses and in prayer groups, will care much about a randomized controlled trial that tests the power of prayer in healing.

Rather, they will welcome relief, be it spiritual, emotional or physical, that they might experience when groups and individuals pray for them and, in the context of a healing service, over them. The God to whom that prayer is directed and his response are what matter to those who seek healing.

This is not to belittle the academician's approach to science and healing, complete with its construct validity, ethnographic methods and empirical data analysis. But that is the material of scholarship, as Gunther Brown is an associate professor in the department of religious studies at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Most of the chapters are directed toward questions that beg for a quantitative answer, e.g., Are healing claims documented? Can health outcomes of prayer be measured? Do healing experiences produce lasting effects? To those concerned about compatibility between faith and science, answers to those questions are important.

But believers in a loving, merciful, all-powerful God might take issue with the implication that faith is just another variable in the researcher's world, fodder for theoretical development and discussion. For believers, faith is a way of life. It is not a variable, but a constant in their lives with which, and by which, they deal with whatever and whomever they encounter. Those encounters and faith's role in them might not be quantifiable.

In her conclusion, in which she notes that she will continue to research spiritual healing practices, Gunther Brown writes, "Perhaps the most obvious conclusion to draw from findings collected to date is that, regardless of what researchers have to say, people from around the world will continue to pray for healing and perceive healing, and many of them will do so in the context of expanding global Pentecostal networks."

Those who have the theological and research backgrounds to grasp what Gunther Brown is attempting to accomplish will welcome her work. Her research is thorough and it will prod qualified and interested readers to think about the marriage of faith and science, particularly when it comes to healing prayer.

Those content with the simplicity of prayer, especially healing prayer, and with its ability to bring them closer to God and to experience God, might not grasp what Gunther Brown is attempting to discover, but that's OK. Just as there are different ways to pray, there are different ways to look at prayer and what it does. "Testing Prayer: Science and Healing," is one of those looks.

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