Neophilia

Until you are ready to change any minute, you can never see the truth; but you must hold fast and be steady in the search for truth.[1]

The best work is only done by alternate repose and work.[2]

A recent JAMA study[3] found that the 30-day mortality among high-risk acute care patients was 30% lower when the top doctors were out of town, as when they were away at conferences, leaving more junior doctors in charge. The authors explained that most errors doctors make are connected to a tendency to form opinions quickly, based on prior experience, but in cases that are not routine, that can be misleading—the expert doctors may miss important aspects of the problem that are not consistent with their initial analysis. So a dose of inexperience can be beneficial. The same is true for eccentricity, or ‘childishness.’

Modern psychology literature speaks of the human attraction to novelty and change. Psychologists have a word for it, ‘neophilia.’ It is what encouraged our prehistoric ancestors to explore and experiment even when their lives were just fine. Evolution favored that behavior because it led to the discovery of alternate food and water sources, and the invention of new hunting methods and tools, all of which became vital when times changed for the worse. Scientists have identified a gene associated with that novelty-seeking tendency, DRD4, affecting the way our brains respond to the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is important in the brain’s motivational circuitry.

One of the abilities most important to neophiliac thinking, also called elastic thinking,[4] is the power to relax your mind, to let your guard down. Being focused is important in rational or logical thinking, but it means your filters are turned up high, so your ideas may have a narrow range, and tend to be conventional. Your focus may also impede any tendency to question the assumptions behind whatever issue you are considering. On the other hand, when your mind is relaxed, you can play with the idea of a new paradigm. You are not worried about why your ideas might be wrong. You are not worried about failure. You can experiment. Your mind can wander to new territory, and stumble upon novel ideas, and new ways of looking at things.

That’s why it is often fruitful to think intensely about an issue, and then take a break in which you engage in a mild physical activity, but are not mentally focused; as when jogging or in the shower. Similarly, researchers have found that quietly pondering an issue when you are intellectually exhausted, at the end of the day, can allow original ideas, which might not otherwise surface, to get through.

One can also cultivate insight by adjusting one’s external conditions. Studies show that sitting in a darkened room, or closing your eyes, can widen your perspective; so can expansive surroundings, even high ceilings. Low ceilings, narrow corridors, and windowless offices have the opposite effect. And a well-lit room can make it difficult to ignore objects in your surroundings that stimulate mundane thoughts, shoving aside imaginative musings generated by your mind.

Being able to think without any kind of time pressure is also important when striving for insight, because if you have to start on something else soon, your awareness of that can pull your mind back to the external world.

Just as important, interruptions are deadly. A short phone call, email or even a text message can redirect your attention and thoughts. Even the thought that some message may be awaiting you can have the same effect.

The future belongs to the neophiliac mind. This is the argument behind the recent best-selling book Elastic by Leonard Mlodinow,[5] which examines the swirl of change we find ourselves living through, and the ways of thinking best suited to it. We all have what is needed for ‘elastic thinking’ – to a greater extent, perhaps, than we realize. It’s just a matter of recognizing the needed skills, Mlodinow argues, and nurturing them.

Mlodinow, however, misses the important point of ‘holding fast and being steady in the search for truth,’ which must be a sine-qua-non of nurturing elastic thinking skills. Vedanta calls this ‘holding fast to the search of truth’ as ‘Ishta’; an anthropomorphic representation of the Ideal. The modern thinkers, while they are doing an amazing job in studying the dynamics of human thinking and working, are yet to recognize the vital contribution of the Ideal on human endeavors.

Swami Vivekananda says, ‘The life of the practical is in the ideal. It is the ideal that has penetrated the whole of our lives, whether we philosophize, or perform the hard, everyday duties of life. The rays of the ideal, reflected and refracted in various straight or tortuous lines, are pouring in through every aperture and wind-hole, and consciously or unconsciously, every function has to be performed in its light, every object has to be seen transformed, heightened, or deformed by it. It is the ideal that has made us what we are, and will make us what we are going to be. It is the power of the ideal that has enshrouded us, and is felt in our joys or sorrows, in our great acts or mean doings, in our virtues and vices.[6]

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[1] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-7: Inspired Talks: entry dated July 5, 1895

[2] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-8: Epistles: Letter written to Swami Ramakrishnananda on March, 1898

[3] https://jamanetwork.com / journals / jamainternalmedicine / fullarticle / 1700429; July 22, 2013; Mortality for Publicly Reported Conditions and Overall Hospital Mortality Rates; Authors: Marta L. McCrum, MD; Karen E. Joynt, MD, MPH; E. John Orav, PhD; et al

[4] Condensed from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-power-of-flexible-thinking; Interview by Gareth Cook of Leonard Mlodinow on 21st March 2018.

[5] Published by Pantheon; Marketed by Penguin Random House: ISBN 9781101870921

[6] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda: Vol-4: Writings-Prose: Sketch of the Life of Pavhari Baba

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Education & Discipline

Somehow or the other, the term discipline always comes riding piggy-back with Education.

Teachers contend that unless they are given well-behaved, discipline, rules & regulations-abiding students, they cannot teach effectively. It has always been a contentious issue as to who will break the child into this ‘well-behaved’ mould. Teachers hold that parents and school administration should take care of training the children in attitudes & behavior skills, while guardians hold that it is the teachers who should do this job. There are sufficient arguments to bolster both the lines of reasoning.

Some learned ones however say that what is more important is to identify and remedy the causes of behavior problems in our students. Let’s look at a small story.

A small boy was accompanying his mother on the beach. Given below is the conversation between them:

Boy: Mummy, may I play in the sand?

Mummy: No, darling. You will only soil your clean clothes.

Boy: May I wade in the water?

Mummy: No, don’t. You will get wet and catch a cold.

Boy: may I play with the other children?

Mummy: No. You will get lost in the crowd.

Boy: Mummy, please buy me an ice-cream.

Mummy: No. Ice-cream is bad for your throat.

The little boy started crying. The mother tells her friend who is also nearby, “For Heaven’s sake! Have you ever seen such a neurotic child? Always throwing a tantrum! Can’t keep still a minute.”

Now, isn’t the reason for the child’s strange and rebellious behavior, clear to us? A famous Jesuit Educationist once said, “Before punishing a child, ask yourself if you are not the cause of the offence.” We ourselves are the root cause of student-indiscipline in most cases. How? There is a gap between us and our children, mostly. We seem to be unable to grasp the feelings of our own kids. Added to that, we labor with the misconception that ‘Understanding’ actually means ‘Imposing’. We are adepts in imposing our views on our children. Rarely do we find a grown-up person, be he a parent or a teacher, who tries to see from the child’s point of view.

James Baldwin [1]once famously said, “Our children seldom listen to our advices, but they also seldom fail to imitate us!”

Communication is the crux of the teacher-student relationship. Alas! When we are unable to establish decent channels of communication with our students, we resort to the despicable means of ‘controlling the kids by fear’. In most cases, teachers equate ‘Communication’ with ‘instilling fear’.

There was once a couple who had trouble handling their son. There was no way they could convince him that paper should not be torn. He had developed a strange habit. Wherever and whenever he got a piece of paper or a book or a magazine, immediately he would tear it to bits. They had consulted educational experts, counselors, doctors and even psychiatrists, but to no avail. One day, a good friend of the boy’s father came to their house and stayed with them for a week. During that time, the boy became very close to this man. One night, after dinner, the parents explained their dilemma regarding the boy’s inexplicable behavior to this man. And from the next day, the parents found that the boy had stopped tearing paper! They were shell-shocked. Where experts in the field of education and medicine and psychology had failed, this ordinary man had succeeded. They asked him about it. His reply is note-worthy. He said, “I took him on my lap, looked him in his eye and told him, ‘Look here, son. Don’t tear paper. You should use paper to write.’ You see, what happened with him is, all of you tried to do so many things with him, except tell him directly not to tear paper. If only one of you had told him explicitly what to do, the problem would have stopped long ago.”

Years upon years in the teaching profession tends to make us teachers immune to the ‘life-component’, to the living aspect of the children. I feel that is one of the deleterious, desensitizing effects of this most noble profession. Even the best of us are not immune from it at some point of time in our careers. James Baldwin once said, “The first duty of a teacher is to consider that the student is a human being…A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him.” The student is a living being with whom we can connect, with whom we can talk and reason and interact. Hence some argue that there is need of more love than law while dealing with students.

Swami Vivekananda says that the best teacher is he who can come down to the level of his student and teach him. When this is done, the student feels comfortable with the learning process. What then is the scheme for evaluation of the teaching-learning process? The ideal scheme should be evaluating the quality of life that the student leads. A teacher may have taught his students all the English and Sanskrit and Physics and Chemistry, but if the quality of the student’s life has not improved, all that teaching has been but superficial.

Once a burglar had an apprentice, who was learning burglary from him. After some months of training, one night, both went into a house and started to rob the house. Suddenly the teacher-burglar dropped some vessel, creating a loud noise which woke up the entire household. As soon as they heard footsteps, the teacher-burglar ran out, locked the room in which the apprentice was hiding, from outside, and escaped. After some hours, the apprentice came back with a huge booty, full of enthusiasm and wanted to explain his adventure. The teacher-burglar simply said, “Son, what need is there to explain how you did it? You escaped from them and are here in front of me in flesh and blood. That is sufficient proof for me that you have graduated in the trade of burglary!”

Swami Vivekananda said that true Education is that which makes a man stand on his own feet.

Some of us argue that we are academic teachers. We are not duty-bound to train our students in the behavioral aspects of their life. That is the purview of their homes. But let us try to understand that the difference between home and school is non-existent in the young child. The entire phase of childhood is one continuous learning process. The child does not make much distinction about the source of his learning. All that matters is who has the stronger hold of love over him. It could be a parent, or a teacher at school, or any other mature person who has access to him. And we find that when all these elders become impersonal, distant from the child, unable to establish meaningful links with the child’s psyche, the child will fall back upon his/her peers. These peers, being as immature as the child itself, are ineffective in giving any shape to the life of the child. Then the child’s behavior starts being classified as problematic. He/she then starts having discipline problems in the eyes of the elders. Seldom do the elders realize that the root cause of those problems have been their own indifference to the child’s needs, especially emotional and social needs.

So, it has been seen in many societies all over the world, that while the parents and teachers have been busy arguing as to who was responsible for the child’s indiscipline, the child however has been deteriorating further at a very dangerous rate.

An African proverb says, ‘It takes an entire village to educate a child’. Every mature person in society has a role to play in the training and education of the children. Can’t we atleast learn something of value about this from our animal-friends who co-habit this planet with us? When a young one is born among animals, the responsibility of training it is shared by every elder member of the animal group! While, we, the most advanced species on Earth, are still busy trying to ascertain whose responsibility it is to train our young ones! Pathetic, indeed.

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[1] James Baldwin (1924-87) was a Civil Rights activist and literary figure in America. His essays contain wonderful insights on education.

IS GOD LISTENING?

IS GOD LISTENING?

By Kenneth L. Woodward[1] On 3/30/97 At 7:00 Pm

Mimi Rumpp stopped praying for a winning lottery ticket years ago. With a husband, two kids and a full – time job, she didn’t have time for trivial pursuits. But after a doctor told her sister Miki last year that she needed a kidney transplant, the family began praying for a donor. This, Mimi thought, was a prize worth praying for. Less than a year later, Miki has a new kidney, courtesy of a bank teller in Napa, Calif., to whom she had told her story. The teller was the donor; she was so moved by Miki’s plight she had herself tested and discovered she was a perfect match.

Coincidence? Luck? Divine intervention? Rumpp is sure: “It was a miracle.”

It was almost 20 years ago, but the woman, now a Los Angeles journalist, still trembles when she describes the scene. Late on a black, noiseless night in upstate New York, she decided to take a shortcut home, up a steep, unlit path. Then she heard steps behind her, faster than her own. An instant later the man was upon her, tightening her new striped scarf around her neck, then ripping at her pants. At home, her mother woke from a deep sleep, seized with fear that something terrible was about to happen to her eldest daughter. The mother immediately knelt down beside her bed and prayed. For 15 minutes she begged God to protect her daughter from the nameless but real threat she felt her daughter faced. Convinced she had won God’s attention – and protection – the mother returned to bed and a sound sleep. Back on the stony path, the would – be rapist suddenly ceased his assault. He cocked his head, almost beastlike, the woman recalls, and fled down the hill.

Coincidence? Luck? Or divine intervention? Were prayers answered or were prayers irrelevant? The devoted mother and her daughter, a professional skeptic, are certain in their belief. That was the Devil on the hill, and it was God who led him away.

Such are the mysteries of prayer. For those blessed with faith, of course, there is no doubt: these are answered prayers, pure and simple. And Americans are a praying people. In a new Newsweek Poll, a majority of American adults – 54 percent – report praying on a daily basis, and 29 percent say they pray more than once a day. For them, it is not an unrequited relationship: 87 percent say they believe that God answers their prayers at least some of the time.

And when he doesn’t, what then? Gary Habermas is chairman of the philosophy department at Liberty University, the institution founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the fundamentalist televangelist. By belief and by habit, Habermas is a praying man. In the 1980s, he kept a prayer list, with hundreds of names, often of people he didn’t know. He prayed for their jobs, their health, their children, and, after watching a remarkable set of healings, concluded that personal prayer works. So, when his 87 – years old grandmother fell deathly ill, he sat at her bedside in ‘serious prayer’. To his delight, she recovered. And then, in May 1995, his wife of 23 years was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Once again he prayed, more anxiously than ever, to his trustworthy God. He didn’t mean to be selfish, he prayed. “If it’s not your will that she be spared, then your will be done.” But he didn’t want to be judged indifferent, either. “But you understand, I really want her back.”

By one measure, he failed. Debbie died. But before she did, she told her husband that “God spoke to me. Three words: I love you.” Habermas was torn between grief and gratitude for a power he could no more master than understand. “She had doubted God’s love all her life, yet now she was as sure of his love as she was of mine,” he says today. “I trust him to have a good answer to my prayers. That’s not the same as knowing what that answer is.” Habermas is in the mainstream. According to the Newsweek Poll, 85 percent of Americans say they accept God’s failure to grant their prayers. Only 13 percent say they have lost faith – at any time – because their prayers went unanswered.

It is remarkable that in millennial America, where public cynicism seemingly knows no bounds and the coin of the mass – culture realm is cheap, ironic detachment, trust in God persists. The prayers keep coming – for health, safety, love and, to a remarkable degree, for others. At her Roman Catholic parish in Newton, Mass., Dorothy Reece runs a prayer line in which 50 congregants pray for a long list of needy people. Her current prayer registry reveals a Job – like list of human miseries: a heart attack, a spleen removed, stomach cancer, drug addiction, infertility, a husband’s desertion, a job interview. “We really do believe that God can take care of more than one person at a time,” says Reece.

Pentecostals are firm believers that God works miracles all the time. At Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., students run a round – the – clock prayer ministry, taking requests by phone, fax and e – mail. For those who prefer the Web, there’s the Praise & Prayer Center site. If you’re Jewish and can’t make it to Jerusalem, an Israeli company offers e – mail service with direct delivery of prayer requests to the Wailing Wall. At Foundary Memorial United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., where the Clintons usually worship, there are Thursday evening healing services for the sick in body, mind or soul. Although the president has never attended one of those sessions, congregants prayed last week for a quick healing of his damaged knee.

This ubiquity of prayer came as a surprise to Foundary Memorial’s pastor, the Rev. J. Philip Wogaman. He had spent most of his career teaching seminary students before he took Foundary’s pulpit five years ago. And, as he said last week, “I had no idea people were doing these things.” This is a subject that frankly embarrasses some religious intellectuals. “If you look at formal liturgies,” says Robert Bruce Mullin, author of ‘Miracles and the Modern Religious Imagination’, and a religion professor at North Carolina State University, “they come right to the point of talking about the power of intercessory prayer. But they don’t want to cross the line saying, ‘Yes, God can intervene in the world’.”

Many of the nation’s leading theological schools have become obsessed with liberation theology, feminist theology, all forms of serious icon – shattering postmodern theology. But the people in the pews never forgot that they had come to pray. When Roberta Bondi, now a professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was herself a Methodist seminarian, asking God for personal favors was considered “an exercise in narcissism and dishonesty: prayer was a way of bucking us all up to be socially responsible.” Today, for her, it is something much more personal and direct. “If I want a real relationship with God, I have to tell him what’s going on,” she says. “As with any relationship, you don’t know in advance how it’s going to turn out. You just do it, you make yourself accessible so you’re prepared to receive grace when it comes.”

Jesus, of course, repeatedly urged his followers to petition the Father for their needs. Many of his own miraculous cures occurred only after others begged him to heal their afflictions. “Ask and you shall receive,” he said, “seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” By that measure, millions of Americans are finders as well as seekers.

How do the faithful know that God really answers prayers? More than any other issue in religion, the response depends on point of view. If you believe, no proof is necessary; if you don’t, no proof is sufficient. For nonbelievers, prayer of any kind is folly, and relying on God for favors is the worst form that folly can take. In his final book, “The Demon – Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark,” the late Carl Sagan included prayer along with astrology, spoon – bending, witches, ESP, spiritualism and repressed memories as examples of the persistence of irrationality (next story). The fact that most Americans both pray and believe that Earth has been visited by odd – shaped extraterrestrials, he pointed out, does not offer much confidence that faith in God – the Supreme Extraterrestrial – is rationally warranted.

The challenge Sagan raises is one that bothers many theologians and other religious intellectuals. The issues involved are particularly acute for Christian faith and practice. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught his disciples specifically to ask the Father for their ‘daily bread’ and for deliverance from ‘evil’. That covers a lot of ground, and pious Christians have been filling in the details ever since. But while ordinary believers continue asking God for favors, an international group of Christian scientists, philosophers and theologians has been grappling with the implications of this old and seemingly innocuous habit. Although their arguments are often abstruse, participants believe they are necessary for the coherence and integrity of religious faith. Given what science tells us about the laws of nature, what does it mean to say that God intervenes to answer individual prayers? What do answered prayers say about God? Since many prayers go unanswered, does this mean that God plays favorites? And what kind of prayer is it that tries to manipulate God for personal benefit? Doesn’t all petitionary prayer treat God as a kind of divine vending machine? In short, what does the simple act of begging for this or that presuppose about our understanding of God, the world of nature and ourselves?

For some theologians, the basic issue is simple. Modern science presents an increasingly compelling model of how the world works to which religion, if it is to remain intellectually honest, must adjust its ideas about God. For these theologians, prayers of petition are understandable but intellectually outdated. “It’s not very helpful to think of God as an old man in the sky waiting for communication and answering it,” says Gordon Kaufman, emeritus professor at Harvard Divinity School. “We have to think of God much more in accordance with the general picture of the world.” According to that picture, Kaufman argues, the universe is an ecological system where scientific laws govern the course of events, making the idea of a transcendent personal God untenable. “I prefer to think of God as creativity, rather than as creator,” he says. In this reconfigured world, therefore, praying to a personal God, as he once did, makes no sense. Instead, says Kaufman, the only kind of prayer that works is “meditation – trying to understand faults, mistakes, where I’ve gone wrong.”

But there are a number of academics who think that Kaufman’s view claims too much for science, too little for God. Several of them are both scientists and Anglican priests, members of a group called The Society of Ordained Scientists, who believe faith and science share a common ground of intellectual inquiry. “Twentieth – century science has seen the death of a nicely mechanical view of the world,” says the Rev. John Polkinghorne, a particle physicist and currently a visiting professor at New York’s General Theological Seminary. Nor is the world, he believes, a place where laws of nature determine and explain everything that happens. Modern physics alone reveals a world shot through with uncertainty and indeterminacy. “The causes that bring about the future are not just the causes that physics processes in bits and pieces,” says Polkinghorne. “They also include what I call active information from human beings and from God.” In his model of the world, there is room for nature to be itself, human beings to make choices and God to influence history through Divine Providence. “The world isn’t God’s puppet theater,” he observes.

If there is ample room for God in the perspective of these theologian – scientists, there still isn’t much space for miracles. To scientists who look for universal laws and work with repeatable experiments, a single inexplicable event can only be described as nature’s ‘misbehavior’, says physicist Paul Davies of the University of Adelaide in Australia, who has written numerous popular books on the philosophical dimensions of modern science. A miracle by definition is a direct act of God – and that, often enough, is what ordinary people say has been the answer to their prayers. According to the Bible, miracles are signs and wonders that point to the reality and power of God.

But all miracles are in the eyes of the beholder, and can be recognized only if those eyes are open to faith. “Healings are certainly healings, but if you take them as just the restoration of somatic health, then you’ve missed the point,” says Episcopal theologian Charles Hefling of Boston College. If one is sick, prays for healing, gets better and then forgets about what’s happened, that’s not a miracle, says Hefling. “Even if the doctors can’t explain why it happened, it’s not a sign and wonder in the Biblical sense because it hasn’t opened one’s eyes to that Something Else.”

There is, in sum, no way to prove empirically that even the most inexplicable event is an act of God. His ways are indeed mysterious. But many doctors are convinced that prayers can significantly improve a patient’s health. And several of them are designing tests to try to prove the power of prayer.

The most intriguing experiment involves 60 patients at the Arthritis Treatment Center in Clearwater, Fla. Because rheumatoid arthritis has clear manifestations – including swollen joints and crippling pain – relief of these symptoms can be easily measured. The study is under the general direction of Dr. Dale Matthews, an associate professor of medicine at the Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. Matthews is also a Presbyterian who has been praying for and with patients for years and now wants to find out if science can confirm that prayer really has healing effects.

He has divided the participants into two general groups. All patients will receive four days of healing prayer through the traditional Christian practice of laying on of hands by members of the Christian Healing Ministry. In addition, half the patients will receive six months of long – distance intercessory prayer. Both groups will be examined by the same clinician before the experiment, immediately afterward and again at one, three, six and twelve months. Throughout, Matthews is using strict scientific protocols and standards set by the American College of Rheumatology. By the end of this year, after an outside physician has scrutinized the data, Matthews and his team hope to show what difference, if any, prayer has made.

Already, a videotape of the early phase of the study shows that some individual patients have experienced extraordinary short – term results from prayer. “There’s something weird going on here, and I love it,” says one patient. At the beginning of the experiment he had 49 tender joints. After four sessions with a hands – on praying minister, he had only eight. Six months later, he says he has no pain at all and no need of medication.

Matthews doesn’t expect that all the patients will turn out so well. He’s mainly interested in discovering whether prayer has long – term benefits. But what is being tested here, the power of prayer or God’s willingness to take part in scientific experiments? “That’s a fair question,” Matthews acknowledges. “God can bless or not bless this study.”

Indeed, one of the great problems in asking God for any favor is that he often does not grant it. And when he favors some and not others, it appears that he does indeed play favorites. Is God unjust or is it that he only appears that way?

The question is as old as the book of job, and believers have been wrestling ever since with the answer God gives there: “Who has a claim against me that I must pay?” Deists take the view that God set the universe in motion and then withdrew from intervention in its unfolding: that is why bad things often happen to good people. But that makes God a remote and unapproachable being. Protestant theologian Ronald Goetz of Elmhurst College in Illinois doesn’t see how a God worthy of the title has any choice but to interact with the people he has created. “I don’t think a deistic god, who doesn’t involve himself, is any less innocent than the God of Scriptures who says he is committed,” Goetz argues. “If a creator is uninvolved, then I shall be uninvolved with him.”

A vision of God who can act but won’t – who sits back paring his nails, in James Joyce’s famous phrase – can be unsettling. The Jewish community in the West continues to ask how an event so horrific as the Holocaust could have happened, and this can generate skepticism about the power of prayer. Petitionary prayer is not foreign to Judaism; healing centers have opened recently in New York and San Francisco. But most rabbis prefer to pray for wisdom, not relief. The master of this view is Rabbi Harold Kushner, whose ‘When Bad Things Happen to Good People’ was just the first in a series of best sellers. “I don’t like the notion that when we pray and don’t get answers, God has considered our request and said, ‘No’,” Kushner says. “I’d get very angry if I felt God had the power and chose not to. I don’t know anything about the nature of God. But I know prayer makes life better and richer for me.”

Prayer can certainly be manipulative and trivial. Must God choose between a boxer who thanks Allah for victory and his opponent who prays to Jesus? When Notre Dame played Texas Christian University in basketball last week, was the Irish victory a sign of divine preference? In fact, coaches today use prayer as a form of team bonding, asking only that players perform up to their full potential. On professional teams like the New York Knicks, athletes who want to pray, sometimes do it together with members of the opposition. Serious athletes – if not passionate fans – know that God does not provide a competitive edge.

Still, prayers of petition can be the beginning of a lifelong relationship. “We go to God with dirty hands and ambiguous motives,” observes theologian Goetz. But with repetition, elementary prayer can develop into more refined, less self – centered habits. “If you’re learning to play the piano, do the exercise first,” advises theologian Hefling. “Chopin comes later.”

At Easter time, all Christians are reminded that Jesus himself did not always get his own prayers answered. At least not the way he wanted. As the liturgy of Good Friday recalls, Jesus pleaded with the Father, just before his arrest by Roman soldiers, that ‘the cup’ of suffering he was about to drink be taken from him. He literally sweated blood, the Gospels say, while thinking of the hideous death that lay before him. Yet his supplication was refused, and he went to the cross in obedience to the Father’s will. Mark’s Gospel records that his last words were dark indeed: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It was the Father’s will that, Christians believe, Jesus should be crucified for others. And the purpose, the Gospels also tell us, was that all might enjoy everlasting life. Such are the mysteries of prayer.

In this Newsweek Poll, 82% say they ask for health or success for a child or family member when they pray; 75% ask for strength to overcome personal weakness; 87% say that God answers prayers; 51% think God doesn’t answer prayers to win sporting events; 36% never pray for financial or career success; 29% say they pray to God more than once a day; 25% pray once a day; 82% say they believe that God does not play favorites in answering prayers; 79% say God answers prayers for healing someone with an incurable disease; 73% think prayers for help in finding a job are answered; 54% say that when God doesn’t answer their prayers, it means it wasn’t God’s will to answer; 82% don’t turn away from God when prayers go unanswered.

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Citation Details : Is God listening?

Article Abstract:

Skeptics and believers argue over the observation that prayer is a powerful tool to ward away evil. A Newsweek survey reveals that a majority of Americans still believe in the power of prayer and can attest that most of the unexplainable events in their lives are due to divine intervention.

Author : Woodward, Kenneth L.

Publisher : Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.

Publication Name : Reader’s Digest

Subject : General interest

ISSN : 0034-0375

Year : 1997

Topic Tags : Analysis, Personal narratives, Psychology, Religious, Psychology and religion, Transcendence of God, Divine transcendence

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[1] Cf: http://www.newsweek.com/god-listening-170460; Also see the colophon to this article for citation.