As I was becoming an Anglican, I was delighted to learn the old saying, lex orandi lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of belief). In other words, how we pray forms our beliefs, and vice versa. Following the Orthodox custom, when someone begins to question me, for example, about the transformation of bread into Christ’s Body, I often say the answer isn’t to be found in books, but in liturgical gatherings. Come and see! More to the point, taste and see.
It turns out that lex ordandi lex credendi is just scratching the surface. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to read that brain scans can detect, “some areas of increased activity in the frontal lobes, which handle focused attention — precisely what [scientists] would expect from a person praying intently.” But that’s not all.
Andrew Newberg, a research scientist behind one recent study notes that “The more you focus on something — whether that’s math or auto racing or football or God — the more that becomes your reality, the more it becomes written into the neural connections of your brain”, and “You can sculpt your brain just as you’d sculpt your muscles if you went to the gym,” he says. “Our brains are continuously being sculpted, whether you like it or not, wittingly or unwittingly.”
Asked if this challenges his beliefs, Newberg, answers, “I think we’re wired for the supernatural,” he says. “I think we’re meant to sense a world beyond our five senses. Come on! Taste and see that God really is good.” Newberg says he can’t prove that [people are] communing with God, but he can look for circumstantial evidence. “What we need to do is study those moments where people feel that they’re getting beyond their brain, and understanding what’s happening in the brain from a scientific perspective, what’s happening in the brain from their spiritual perspective,” he says.
So then we have some choices to make. St. Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Do we fill our minds with television, sports, work, money, violence, and fear? Do we (ahem!) fill our minds with blogs? That last one gets me! Or do we make more space in our lives — and in our brains — for prayer?
I’m not suggesting that we have to shun television and sports or become Amish. But surely, as a society, we can do better than we’re doing now. The average American is watching more television than ever, over 151 hours per month. The same families who say they cannot come to class and worship on Sunday mornings because it takes too much time enroll their children in sports that demand massive commitments of time every week. All these things that take us away from God leave us feeling fearful and living in a reality where there is never enough time, money, trust, or compassion.
This scientific study supports what prayerful people have been saying for countless generations. Praying has vast benefits for us, and it may even change the way we see the world. Imagine how different our nation would be if the average American spent 151 hours each week in prayer. What if families signed their kids up for prayer teams that met several hours each week? We’d live in a different kind of nation. I suspect we’d suddenly discover there’s more than enough. More than enough time, money, trust, and compassion.
Praying might just change our world, one life at a time. It’s a new year. Perhaps you’ll make a new year’s resolution to pray more. It will make a difference in your life. The Bible says so. Your clergy say so. And science says so.
Image from istockphoto.com.