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The healing power of prayer

Some years back, I had a professor who could turn almost any lecture about English into an antagonistic, argumentative upheaval about...God. It was never a “do you or don’t you believe” stance; oh no, in some ways, that would have been too easy. Shut the book. Discussion over.

He would begin the day’s lecture about Shakespeare’s Hamlet, for example, and end by sharing his personal and critical viewpoints on various religions; ultimately, narrowing his argument down by giving positive attributes to his prospective religion, citing that it was what was community-centered, and therefore, best.

Low-and-behold, it was during this course that I found a case study, showing the remarkably, improved results of hospitalized patients, who had fallen ill. It wasn’t a surgery that made them better. Or a slurry of medication, per se. It was simply the power of prayer.

I marched right up to professor before class had begun, case study in hand, excited to share my findings with him. He, on the other hand, seemed little to not-at-all impressed. He brushed it off with a mere, “Uh, huh,” slightly acknowledging me.

In the end, I was able to tie together the case study and the scene where Hamlet stumbled upon Claudius, making an argument for the power of prayer. If my memory serves me correctly, the class wasn’t a religious or Shakespearean class; it was some sort of rhetoric—the ability to speak! I got an A on the paper.

Little did I know then how much this topic would impact my future (not the rhetoric, well maybe), but the power of prayer when someone is facing an illness or death is impending.

It was during my years, working with patients and families who were facing serious illnesses that I would often reflect, thinking about the case study and wonder: ‘Has everyone read the case study?’ Every person I work with seems to have a magic heart, who knows when and where to be to help a patient and/or a family member out, offering everything from an ear to bend, a meal, to prayer. Volunteers appear, as if magically, in the middle of the night, to sit with, to pray with, a patient who might not have anyone else.

“There is a Chinese saying,” said Larry Dossey, M.D.: ‘A bird does not sing because it is looking for an answer; it sings because it has a song.’” Dr. Dossey, has written several books on the positive effects of prayer in hospitals. He is the former chief of staff at Humana Medical City Dallas. His definition of prayer is broad.

His studies have shown positive effects for those with whom prayer is given when faced with an illness. This can be especially positive if shared by someone with whom the person loves or is cared by. The study has even shown positive results when the hospitals go as far as to employ people to sit and pray with those individuals who are left to themselves.

Interestingly, while most people are only curious about the positive/negative effects impacting humans, the study proved the power of prayer is effective when observing it on plants, bacteria growth in petri dishes and tumor growth in animals.

I am constantly reminded of the words of one of my favorite social workers: “People need people.” Study or no study, my co-workers had long figured this out, and they were simply being people, when people needed people.

Gina (Paradiso) Cathcart is the director of Carecorner, Ltd., Colorado Respite Care. She is a healthcare educator, passionate about service to others and quality patient care. She can be reached at

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