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Prayer, what it is and the evidence.

Spiritualism like many other religions uses prayer as means of worship and may be conceptualised as a simple ritual through which a person develops their thoughts and relationship to a Deity (Janssen, Hart and den Draak, 1990); and that forms the centre of all religious beliefs (Brown, 1994). A survey by Foster (1992) of world religions and the usage of prayer suggested at least 21 different forms of prayer, while others have suggested over 100 categories of prayer in common usage (Richards and Hildebrand, 1990). The most common usage of prayer includes prayers of thanksgiving, confession, petition, adoration, and intercession. Consisting of three main parts: an introduction, involving some glorification to the Deity in the form of addressing the Deity as our superior e.g. ‘Great Spirit’, ‘Father God’, ‘Divine Father’. Followed with the middle section that details the main purpose of the prayer e.g., petition for guidance, wisdom in a meeting or intercessory petition for healing. Then the ending, which often includes some humble declaration of the Deity's omnipotence, as in some effort at ingratiation e.g., ‘we trust in your wisdom’, ‘we call in your name’. Western tradition of prayer then typically uses ‘Amen’ to end and express trust in the power of God to make good on the prayer (Magee, 1981). Prayers in other organised religions may also contain a Deity's declaration of the Deity's monotheistic reality, for example in Sikhism prayers end with the declaration ‘Wahe Guru’, meaning literally ‘…there is only one God’.

Recently, questions have been raised as to whether this approach to prayer, to petition favour from the Deity or to request intercession, is the correct usage of prayer. Braden (2016) in the book the ‘Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer’, challenges this traditional convention, and proposes that it is the nature of the ‘Intention’ that holds the power of the transformation being sought. Giving the example of the Native American approach to prayer, that is to pray for what is sought as if it has already manifested. Braden, suggests that the uncanny success rate of the Native American rain prayer, is in fact, not because ‘they ask for rain’, but because they pray ‘rain’. In essence, the prayer becomes an affirmation that Braden suggests interacts with an all-pervading intelligence and as such, we become co-creators with nature. So, the universe simply responds to our intentions as we frame them in our prayers. In other words, if we pray ‘I need to be healed’, this will be manifested not as being ‘healed’ but in a constant cycle of ‘needing to be healed’!

Interestingly, this approach isn’t new, and reference can be seen in the biblical text of Mark 11:24, as a teaching of Jesus: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours”. Likewise, examples can also be seen within the Spiritualist religion, for example during the period given for healing. During this period, a prayer for healing often follows instruction given to the congregation members, “to imagine those sick as they were prior to needing the healing”. Isn’t this simply setting the intention and co-creating the manifestation of the desired effect as if it has already happened?

As well as enabling the individual to develop their own relationship with their Deity, prayer has also been shown to benefit both the physical and mental health, and generally improve the quality of life of the individual (Bradshaw and Kent, 2017). Boelens et al., (2009) conducted a study with individuals suffering from depression and anxiety symptoms in an office setting. Splitting the office workers into two groups, Boelens found that the individuals that were given six weekly 1-hour prayer intervention sessions showed significant improvement in depression and anxiety symptoms; compared to workers that did not receive the prayer sessions. These effects also seem not to be limited to office workers but have been also found to reduce death anxiety in patients with terminal cancer and were effective in improving the mental health of these patients (Hajabadi, Ebrahimi and Farhadi, 2020). Likewise, the benefits of prayer are not limited to benefiting psychological symptoms but also benefit symptoms of the physical disease including the management of pain (Illueca and Doolittle, 2020).

However, the literature also uncovers something of interest, in that it appears that the efficacy of prayer is associated with the individual’s attachment with God (Bradshaw and Kent, 2017) and not solely through the communication of prayer. Perhaps, the individual’s attachment to God through establishing a personal relationship with God, facilitates within the individual a strong degree of trust and expectation, which brings about the manifestation in a similar way as Braden suggests the prayer should assume that what is sought has already manifested. This arguably demonstrates the importance for all individuals to not only understand the nature of prayer but also to invest time in establishing a relationship with God in whatever form resonates with the individual. Whether this is advice individuals will consider in a growing secular society, only time will tell. But possible hope comes from the ONS (2011) census (from the UK) which found the growing secularisation is not due to individuals having no spiritual beliefs but rather, illustrative of the decline in attendance at orthodox church services. In fact, 70% of Millennials regarded themselves as not religious but at the same time, as being ‘spiritual’, which introduces a dichotomy for traditional religions to overcome, if they wish to encourage this age group to join their church. So, with the emphasis on moving away from religion and upon the spiritual nature of humankind, suggests there is still hope for society to once again discover the power that prayer affords every individual, and is part of our spiritual heritage.


Boelens, P.A. et al. (2009) ‘A Randomized Trial of the Effect of Prayer on Depression and Anxiety’, The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 39(4), pp. 377–392. doi:10.2190/PM.39.4.c.

Braden, G. (2016) Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer: The Hidden Power of Beauty, Blessing, Wisdom, and Hurt. Hay House, Inc.

Bradshaw, M. and Kent, B.V. (2017) ‘Prayer, Attachment to God, and Changes in Psychological Well-Being in Later Life’:, Journal of Aging and Health [Preprint]. doi:10.1177/0898264316688116.

Hajabadi, N.R., Ebrahimi, R. and Farhadi, S. (2020) ‘The Relationship between Frequency of Prayer and Death Anxiety in Cancer Patients.’, Indian Journal of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology, 14(3), pp. 2163–2167.

Illueca, M. and Doolittle, B.R. (2020) ‘The Use of Prayer in the Management of Pain: A Systematic Review’, Journal of Religion and Health, 59(2), pp. 681–699. doi:10.1007/s10943-019-00967-8.

Janssen, J.A.P.J., Hart, J.J.M. and den Draak, C. (1990) Praying as an individualized ritual. Rodopi.

Magee, J. (1981) ‘Reality and prayer: A guide to the meaning and practice of prayer’.

Richards, C. and Hildebrand, L. (1990) ‘Prayers that prevail’, Tulsa, OK: Victory House [Preprint].

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