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On Intercessory Prayer, Reiki and the Greater Good

On Intercessory Prayer, Reiki and the Greater Good

Intercessory Prayer is when you pray to God that something you want will happen or that something you don’t want will not happen. In these cases, you are asking God to “intercede” on your behalf. It has been a part of most religions for ages and ages. But, does it work?

Well, a few years ago a study ( Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: a multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer. Am Heart J.2006 Apr;151(4):934-42) was completed by a group of researchers (Benson H, Dusek JA, Sherwood JB, Lam P, Bethea CF, Carpenter W, Levitsky S, Hill PC, Clem DW JR, Jain MK, Drumel D, Kopecky SL, Mueller PS, Marek D, Rollins S, Hibberd PL.) The study tested the effect of prayer on the rate of complications following coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery.

Three groups of patients were included in the study: those who were told they would definitely receive intercessory prayer to assist in their recovery (601 patients,) those who were told they may or may not receive intercessory prayer and did (601 patients,) and those who were told they may or may not receive it but did NOT (597 patients.) Quoting from the abstract: RESULTS: In the 2 groups uncertain about receiving intercessory prayer, complications occurred in 52% (315/604) of patients who received intercessory prayer versus 51% (304/597) of those who did not (relative risk 1.02, 95% CI 0.92-1.15). Complications occurred in 59% (352/601) of patients certain of receiving intercessory prayer compared with the 52% (315/604) of those uncertain of receiving intercessory prayer (relative risk 1.14, 95% CI 1.02-1.28). Major events and 30-day mortality were similar across the 3 groups. CONCLUSIONS: Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.

What are we to make of that? Is it possible that prayer could cause greater complications to occur? One might argue that if the patients knew they were being prayed for, they might have taken more risks or might have tried less hard on their own to get well. But we are talking about post-operative complications, not lifestyle changes. The operative factors here are short-term events immediately surrounding the surgery, not ongoing lifestyle factors with long, sustained ramifications.

Reportedly this study was carried out with excellent scientific design, very carefully laid out. But in their scientific certainty, the researchers failed to consider factors that make reality work. In the words of a recent acquaintance “they used bad theology.” In principle I agree with this, but I would word it differently. In my view the biggest factor these researchers overlooked was that of humility. Yes, that’s right: HUMILITY.

Where did I come up with that idea? Bear with me here – this gets a bit complicated. Long ago a friend introduced me to the discipline of Reiki. If you are not familiar with this, Reiki is a form of energy that assists the body’s ability to heal itself. At least that is the official, introductory explanation. Oh, but it is so much more than that!

According to the official introductory explanation, a person who has been attuned to Level One Reiki can simply lay their hands on someone and thus transfer some energy that will assist in healing say an injury or a part of the receiver’s body that has pain. Though the mechanism of action is not clear to me even to this day, the initial concept was simple enough. I was very skeptical, but the same day I first heard about it, I allowed my friend to give me the “attunement” that transferred this healing energy to my hands. In subsequent months I used it from time to time for minor aches and pains, almost in the same vein as that in which Bensen and Dusek’s team carried out their study on prayer: “to see if it worked!”

While clearly it was not magic and could not do the impossible, before long, this practice of Reiki had earned enough respect in my experience that I knew it was time to increase my skills to the next level. In Level Two Reiki I had heard, it was possible, not only to transfer the healing energy in a hands-on manner, but also to send it to an intention. In fact it was even possible to send it over distances to help heal someone too far away to physically touch. I approached the three day training session with some amount of trepidation. I was excited but worried: “was I being swept into something too ‘out there’ for my generally ‘here and now’ self?”

Sitting through the training session, one concept leapt out at me as very important. “Reiki must always be used for the “greater good.” You cannot use it to manipulate people.” For example, you could not send Reiki to the intention that your worst enemy will break his leg. Not that I was planning to manipulate or harm anyone, but this was intriguing to me. What was this “greater good” the teacher talked about? Who exactly would be determining the greater good in any given situation??? While I immediately grasped the idea that one could not control a person or a situation with Reiki, it was some time before I grasped the depth of the concept of the “greater good.”

Not long after the training session, I was describing my new Level Two Reiki skills to a friend – a non-religious friend, who I thought would be similarly skeptical – when to my shock she blurted out “Oh, so it’s like prayer then!” At first I was insulted and taken aback by this. My view of prayer at the time was like asking for magic. I was not prone to praying for personal favors from an anthropomorphic God I did not believe in – and I was proud of it.

Nonetheless I continued to use the Reiki and over time my understanding of it continued to deepen. Slowly I came to see that part of what was meant by that “greater good” involved having the HUMILITY to know that what I want to happen in any given situation may not be the best thing overall. With this wonderful tool in my hands – allowing me to send healing energy to all sorts of conflicting situations and to people with various illnesses – how could I, in my limited humanness, know all the factors? In any given situation, whatever intention I sent to, I would have to allow that I did not in fact know what outcome would be best. I had no right to specify and ask that MY WILL be done – I could only send energy to the “greater good” and trust the Reiki, or whoever was supplying it, to “know” the difference.

Here is a perfect example that was going on just at the time I was coming to full realization of this. One of my brothers was having trouble in his marriage. I decided to send Reiki to his relationship with his wife. Understanding the “greater good” concept required that I have the HUMILITY to know that, much as I had a strong hope for the relationship in question to flourish, my sending Reiki could have the effect of assisting it to end. My sending Reiki meant giving up my investment in the outcome and trusting that my efforts would assist the “greater good” to occur – even if that meant I would be furthering the non-preferred outcome. If it was time for their relationship to end, my Reiki could help that happen faster, possibly with less grief and ill will, but end just the same. It was quite a task for me to accept this. Much as I liked my sister in law, and much as I did not want my brother divorced, I had to accept that my place was simply to send “to the greater good in their relationship.” …and NOT to the intention of trying to save their marriage!

Over the years, there were many opportunities to help people by sending Reiki. Some got better, some died. Some grew, some got divorced. The opportunity for humility came from knowing it was not I who was in control of the process, whether you want to call it prayer, Reiki or wishful thinking. I had to learn to develop the humility to see that the greater good (whoever or whatever sort of being was determining just what that greater good was) was something beyond my knowledge and beyond my understanding.

So if Reiki is similar to prayer, and yes, now all these years later, I can say I see how it is – it is not so important to whom exactly you pray. If there is a god up there with any goodness or perspective, he would accept your prayer, your chanting or your Reiki sending, no matter who or what you think you are sending it to. Only a man-made, small minded god would only listen to prayers sent specifically to a limited concept of him in a particular manner from a certain group of his people, supposedly favored by him above all the rest!

Mystics say they pray, not so much for personal favors, but to align themselves with the will of God. In most cases, the God they are referring to is not the specific, humanoid, bearded guy in the sky of organized religion – but something broader than that, less defined, something like Goodness, Truth, or Love. Praying to “align oneself with” the God of the Mystics it would seem really is almost the same thing as sending Reiki to the “greater good!”

Before they design another study testing the powers of prayer, Drs Benson, Dusek and team would do well to understand the “greater good” concept. They need to have the humility to see that they cannot possibly know what the greater good is in any situation. They especially need to know that the greater good, God’s will, or whatever else you want to call it, is surely more complex than the assumption that each patient should have the least cardiac complications. Maybe the greater good in the case of some of those cardiac patients was that they learn something from the experience of the complications! Maybe they needed to learn endurance! Maybe the prayer helped the doctors learn something new about how to manage the complications. Maybe the prayers offered in the study DID assist in the greater good. But the study itself did not measure the efficacy of intercessory prayer. It studied only the need for men to assume they know more than they do.

And when we are trying to determine whether or not intercessory prayer “works,” we need to have the HUMILITY to realize that OUR idea of judging it may not be in keeping with the “greater good.” Our prayers may be working toward an end we have no way of knowing about – a “greater good” that respects a reality broader and more encompassing than that which we are able to perceive.


….Look for my soon to be posted article on the correlation of the “greater good” concept with the upcoming election!