The power of prayer

For the second time in our over three decades together, my honey has set up an “altar” to solicit the help of our departed ancestors and Guanyin. This time it’s for getting help to return me to wellness.

Neither of us are regular prayers; neither of us subscribe to any specific religion, and definitely not any institutionalized one. Neither of us have strong ideas about what there might be beyond the physical realm we experience while in our bodies on this earth. Some religious/philosophical concepts, like reincarnation, we relate to better than others, like hell.

In my honey’s memoir, How My Brother Got Married After He Died, he tells numerous stories about his personal encounters involving fengshui and other paranormal events. The many unusual experiences he wrote about are real, in the sense of not fabricated; he tells them as he saw, heard, and felt things.

He described the context of these supernatural events and explains them in the eastern philosophical words and practice of fengshui (wind-water, ancient Chinese system linking one’s environment with one’s destiny), baji (eight characters, Chinese fortune-telling), and yin-yang (cosmic duality). Yet he readily admits there could be other explanations for these events and he doesn’t insist on any cause-effect relationships.

Some may call us agnostic, loosely defined as doubting or beyond our knowing. Some might choose to call us fatalists (determinists), or even to brand us as faithless.

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.

Thomas Aquinas

Yet we are open. Open to possibilities. We are comfortable with not knowing, not having answers to big questions. And we don’t judge the faithful or devoted.

When my honey lights incense, it is to connect with our dear departed as well as Guanyin, the Buddhist bodhisattva associated with compassion, often called the goddess of mercy, although s/he is without gender.

My honey simply asks them to get us through this challenge. He knows better than to ask for any specific result, as what he or I may want could turn out not to be what is best for us. (He learned this when he successfully chanted for his former wife and the effect was disastrous—as told in his memoir.)

How prayer helps us cope better with life’s challenges is a query that scientists (atheists and believers alike) have studied. There is solid empirical evidence that prayer can uplift our feelings during times of trouble. There’s even evidence that prayer can make us think better by reducing the distraction caused by negative emotions. Studies also show that for most believers, prayer isn’t a substitute for evidenced-based solutions to the multitude of wicked social, political, and economic problems humanity faces.

For many, the power is not in the prayer, but in the deity (god, goddess, or anything divine/sacred) to whom they pray. Prayer is the medium.

But that takes a faith I simply don’t have.

For me personally, my faith is more temporal, earthly. I have faith that most people do the best they can with the circumstances they were given. I have faith in the process. I set intentions, state affirmations.

To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.

Alan Watts

Relax and float I do well. And my heart swells full with gratitude that my honey and so many dear friends around the globe love and care for me enough to keep me in their hearts and prayers. That, too, is powerful.

How does prayer fit into your life?


  • I was baptised, went 12 years in a catholic school, married in church.
    Since people like to put you in a box let me say I am white, male, and catholic. Although I don’t think this defines me.

    I also witnessed the change and turbulences in the catholic church. In primary school we learned about hell, heaven, the purgatory, the original sin, and the Bible. Going to church, praying and confession was mandatory and a part of the curriculum. Everything started to change around 1968 and even if it was still a catholic school all those dogmatic subjects that I had learned in primary school were not in fashion anymore.

    Anyways, I have never been a religious person but also not anti-religion. The whole topic never interested me. Since I live in the Philippines the occasional Filipino anthem and the prayers don’t really bother me.

    I believe that religion and prayers can help people who faces great challenges and pain. In the darkest moments of my life, I have begged God for help. Maybe like a child who run to his mother or father for help when he is in pain. I would attribute this more to a sense of complete powerlessness more than out of the belief that a higher being would actually help me. It was more cries of despair towards the Universe.

    Needless to add that I don’t believe in hell or heaven nor in an after world.
    What was before my conception? Before I existed? Nothing and I assume that the day I die I will be back to nothing. As such there is no real fear of what might be after death. No eternal damnation, a life in paradise with the angels nor a reincarnation as a dog.

    Going back to being nothing isn’t fun, and it is not a pleasant thought that suddenly my life will end (while I just start to have fun ).

    Let me conclude with a quote of Aron Ra: “There are certain rules of logic that science has to adhere to, and there are good reasons for that; faith by contrast ignores all of that outright, preferring to believe whatever makes one happy.”

    • Our up-bringing was similar, Sidney. I, too, was baptized, and was confirmed, too. For kindergarten through grade 6 I went to The English School in Helsinki, run and mostly taught by American Catholic nuns. I got similar indoctrination as you, although I must say in hindsight the education was well rounded and high standard.

      In my childhood, I was enamored by the nuns and had fantasies of becoming one. At the school, their personal lives were secret (they lived on the inaccessible to us students top floor) and alluring. I eagerly watched movies with nuns, culminating in The Sound of Music in 1965-6.

      Then one day the bubble burst. As I recall, and this won’t surprise you, I was talkative in class. It was my most reprimanded behavior. One of the nuns said to me in all seriousness, “Little girls who talk too much won’t be allowed to become nuns.” My reflex answer was, “Okay, then I won’t become a nun!” I already knew that staying true to myself takes priority! I also remember thinking at around 11 how unnatural it was to have to make up “sins” (I didn’t consider I really had any) to a guy (the priest in church) who definitely knew who you were! LOL! That was the end of my romance with nunneries.

      Interesting how our values match, Sidney. Only difference is that I’m no more sure about turning to nothing after death as I am about reincarnation (not likely as a dog, I’ve been pretty decent in this life) and any other depiction humans have imagined about the afterlife. I’m good not knowing.

      Thanks for your musings, my friend.

      PS. To edit, see if you have a small EDIT next to the date of your comment, and click on that. If not, don’t think we have the ability to let commenters edit. (Oddly, as admin, I can edit yours.) And Amanda did figure out how to give option to receive reply comments. Let me know if it doesn’t work.

  • I’m finally able to dive into Lordson’s book – and this post intrigues me so to do that now that, as of today, it is FINALLY in my library! It was lovely to preview the other commenter thoughts given I agree in living as prayer and the dance as Lable describes…the words, the music, the feelings of being in the moment and being IN it.

    Our house is on the spectrum of practicing Buddhists…all practicing more or less, which is a lovely part of how we each bring ourselves to that awareness. With so much anxiety in our home for various reasons, prayer and hope/faith are also a practice. I remind myself so often that all of it is ‘not me, not mine’ and to experience it as what life really is. All of it.

    My prayers are thus, always and forever with you and I am so blessed that that is true.

  • I do not believe much in “wordy” prayer, but in lived prayer, a way of being in the world, aware, awake, listening, loving. Prayer is a verb. Prayer does not so much seek answers but allows us to lean into questions and find peace. My prayer for you is made of the energy you have given me in our short relationship and returned to the universe in faith that it will find its way back to you.

  • I very much align with how I read your position on prayer. Prayer is not meant, IMHO, to change anything or anyone external to ourselves. Prayer is meant to change everything internal to ourselves, to open us to possibility, to invite the Universe to dance with us. So happy you are open to the dance, dear friend. 💜

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