Does prayer matter?

With the 'Millennial' generation maturing, studies show prayers decreasing


Published: Saturday, May 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 30, 2010 at 2:56 p.m.

Don't kid yourself, we all pray.

It doesn't have to be communal or on some holy ground. From tearful prostrate pleas for forgiveness to trancelike meditation to an under-the-breath "thank you" when good fortune smiles, many of us make a moment with the higher power in our lives; sometimes we're not even aware of it.

Moreover, it's a core tenet in all major religions of the world: the liturgy of the Catholic Mass, the proscribed wording in Jewish practices, the five daily entreaties offered by Muslims, the mind-God communion in Hinduism and other Eastern religions, the heartfelt, almost cathartic praise from the neighborhood Evangelical minister.

But to what avail? Is there some tangible benefit or practical value in that lifetime moment? Is there something we can hold in our hands as well as our hearts?

It's an almost universally held belief across the broad spectrum of faith that prayer is our direct connection to our higher authority, whether we call this power "God," "Allah," "Jehovah," "Infinite Intelligence" or "Great Spirit."

And while maybe not a "thing" we can hold, theologians, clergy and prayer experts tend to agree this connection is benefit enough.

"You're in tune with thousands of years of tradition," says Rabbi Harold S. Jaye of Ocala. "It makes you feel part of the community through time."

Still, is old-time religion good enough for the up-and-coming generation? Maybe not.

A recent study by LifeWay Christian Resources finds that two-thirds of American "Millennials" - those born between 1980 and 1991 - might call themselves Christian, but fewer pray daily or attend weekly services. Only 31 percent say they pray at least once a day, while 20 percent say they never pray, according to a report on the study at www.lifeway.com.

"The research shows us that religion and its practices are decreasing and becoming increasingly privatized among the Millennial generation," LifeWay President Thom Rainer is quoted in the report. "With fewer people attending worship services or praying with other faith adherents, it is not surprising that the religious landscape of our culture is changing with the maturation of the Millennials."

Thus tomorrow's challenge. But today, those who've lived a lifetime of prayer find it reassuring.

"One value is we open our hearts to the possibility that God is loving us, caring for us," says Sister Elizabeth Hillman of the Cenacle Sisters, a Catholic order of nuns in Gainesville. "That is a value to our lives."

The order specializes in prayer and spirituality. "When we feel loved," Sister Elizabeth continues, "we're able to love others."

Notes Rev. Daryl Allen, pastor at Ocala's Druid Hills United Methodist Church: "Prayer is a sense of reconnection with God. As Christians, we focus on an idea that we have a personal relationship with God.

"This is a time we can pour out our hearts, to laugh and cry, to talk and to listen," he adds.

But public or private? Ah, that is a question.

Thursday is the annual National Day of Prayer in the U.S. Though a part of our national landscape for 58 years - that's codified; a national prayer day is reputed to go back to Revolutionary days, and nearly every president since has proclaimed one - it's now under seige: A judge in Wisconsin last month ruled the law requiring the president to proclaim a National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional.

The argument is this is a violation of the First Amendment prohibition against government establishing a religion. In her ruling, Judge Barbara Crabb said it is "an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function."

The section of law in question reads: "The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals."

Defenders, however, argue the NDP is "America's heritage," says Joel Oster, senior counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund. "The National Day of Prayer provides an opportunity for all Americans to pray voluntarily according to their own faith." The Obama administration reportedly plans to appeal the ruling. Kenneth Wald, distinguished professor of political science at the University of Florida, says he thinks case law is on the side of the petitions, but believes the Supreme Court ultimately will overturn Crabb's decision.

Because Crabb expected an appeal, she stayed implementation of her ruling, meaning it has no effect on this year's planned NDP events.

A National Day of Prayer rally is planned in Ocala between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Thursday on the downtown square.

"We feel it's important we pray for our president and nation's leaders," says organizer Gloria Angel. "That's a hard place for them to be." Though grounded in a Judeo-Christian foundation, she adds, the rally is open "to anyone who wants to come."

But there is one area where, some experts and clergy say, there might be a real bottom line - healing.

"Prayer can make people feel more at ease or calm about their condition," says Peter Fauerbach, supervising chaplain at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "There's a certain relief from turning your cares over to a higher power."

Prayer in healing has been the subject of study since the 1980s. Among the studies: Dr. Randolph Byrd in 1988 found coronary patients who were prayed for needed fewer drugs, less intubation and contracted pneumonia less. Dr. Elizabeth McSherry in the early 1990s found coronary patients who received a daily visit from a hospital chaplain were released at least two days earlier than those who weren't, for a savings of about $4,000 a day.

Dr. Harold Koenig at Duke University has demonstrated connections between spirituality and blood pressure, immune functioning and chronic illness. His Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke is currently wrapping up a study on religion and health, with conclusions expected to be released later this year.

Some skeptics contend it's not the prayer doing the work, but the patient's mind opening to new possibilities.

In an online interview with www.beliefnet.com. Koenig says: "One thing we do know is that God is good and because God is good, whatever God allows to happen or does in response to prayer has to be good.

"Faith is evidence of things not seen," he continues. "If you could reliably predict the effectiveness of prayer, you wouldn't need faith because you'd have proof."

Contact Rick Allen at rick.allen@starbanner.com.

95 percent of adults thank God

76 percent ask forgiveness for specific sins

67 percent praise God's superior abilities

61 percent ask for help

47 percent are silent to listen

An average prayer is just under five minutes

52 percent of people who pray say they do so several times a day

37 percent say they pray once a day

33 percent of adults regularly participate in a prayer group

45 percent pray for health reasons

43 percent prayed for their health

- Source: www.the7greatprayers.com

doug finger/staff photographer

sun file photo

95 percent of adults thank God

76 percent ask forgiveness for specific sins

67 percent praise God's superior abilities

61 percent ask for help

47 percent are silent to listen

An average prayer is just under five minutes

52 percent of people who pray say they do so several times a day

37 percent say they pray once a day

33 percent of adults regularly participate in a prayer group

45 percent pray for health reasons

43 percent prayed for their health

- Source: www.the7greatprayers.com

doug finger/staff photographer

sun file photo

fe0501prayer1.jpg

Members of the Cenacle Convent demonstrate their morning prayer. At far right is Sister Rose Hoover and at left are Sister Betty Rogers and Sister Annette Mattle.

Moved by prayer, University of Florida student Justin Hill lifts his hands while praying with about 200 others who gathered at the Reitz Union for a non-denominational prayer service in response to the 2001 attacks in Washington, D.C., and New York.

Members of the Cenacle Convent demonstrate their morning prayer. At far right is Sister Rose Hoover and at left are Sister Betty Rogers and Sister Annette Mattle.

Moved by prayer, University of Florida student Justin Hill lifts his hands while praying with about 200 others who gathered at the Reitz Union for a non-denominational prayer service in response to the 2001 attacks in Washington, D.C., and New York.

fe0501prayer3.jpgMarla Brose

Members of the Cenacle Convent demonstrate their morning prayer. At far right is Sister Rose Hoover and at left are Sister Betty Rogers and Sister Annette Mattle.

Moved by prayer, University of Florida student Justin Hill lifts his hands while praying with about 200 others who gathered at the Reitz Union for a non-denominational prayer service in response to the 2001 attacks in Washington, D.C., and New York.

Members of the Cenacle Convent demonstrate their morning prayer. At far right is Sister Rose Hoover and at left are Sister Betty Rogers and Sister Annette Mattle.

Moved by prayer, University of Florida student Justin Hill lifts his hands while praying with about 200 others who gathered at the Reitz Union for a non-denominational prayer service in response to the 2001 attacks in Washington, D.C., and New York.

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