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  • Sean O'Leary

Science, Prayer & Truth

Today, science has become our precision tool for discovering important facts about the natural world. However, this does not mean that science is the only route to objective truth. There are many paths to objective truth, such as history or religion. Whether we believe it or not, the Holocaust did happen. To fully grasp reality, we must open our minds to non-scientific truths.


Only the light of faith can illuminate the answers to our deepest questions – about God, our purpose and the meaning of the universe. Yet, science can help us to rediscover some of the truths brought to us through faith. For instance, repeated scientific studies convincingly demonstrate what people have long known, which is that prayer is both nurturing and healing.


At the psychological level, studies have shown that those who pray for others retain fewer vengeful emotions and are more ready to forgive. At the biological level, studies have revealed fascinating and beneficial changes in our bodies as the result of ‘prayer’ from reduced blood pressure and improved sleep patterns to better healing outcomes.


We can think that this healing power is the direct hand of God or a physical response governed by the laws of nature as revealed by science or even some combination of the two. Whatever way we think about the effects of praying, it seems clear that science can be a witness to the power of something greater that operates at a much deeper level within our lives.


There is much about the body-mind connection that we don’t understand. I see the benefits of prayer as evidence of God’s creative power acting in multiple ways through creation.


Forming the habit of meaningful prayer can be tricky. Sometimes we find it hard to pray and sometimes our hearts or minds are elsewhere even as we utter the well-known words. Prayer is about renewing and deepening our sense of connection, a coming together of the internal (our deepest self) and the external (the reality beyond us). When we pray, we rouse our deepest selves by raising our minds and hearts to God.


In today’s world, some people might feel that prayer is boring, useless or irrelevant. In a busy world, it can be challenging to open people’s minds and hearts up to the power of prayer. This is unfortunate as there is much more to the Christian tradition of prayer than we might think.


A shady woodland, the crashing waves of the ocean, a clear night sky filled with stars, a striking sunset, a rousing football match, the common spirit of people together, friendship and love, a moving prayer service, shared joy, a special pilgrimage or majestic mountains can all bring our attention towards a deeper reality. We feel moved in a way that we can’t fully explain. Reality is so much grander than we can individually grasp or imagine and yet it feels genuinely personal.


Many of us are familiar with the established prayers that guide our journey of faith. Another type of personal prayer is known as mental prayer and it is through these prayers that we dialogue with God, meditate on life, ponder the wonder of creation and contemplate mystery.


Mental prayer is a lively pursuit filled with false starts and leaps of imagination. Just as a scientist needs tools to explore the natural world, we also need tools to explore divine reality. Sacred Scripture roots us in the great depth of divine reality that extends far beyond us. This helps us to appreciate the sheer breadth and depth of Christianity and its foundational teachings that illuminate reality.


In the words of St. Bonaventure: ‘Scripture, then, deals with the whole universe: the highest and lowest, the first and the last, and everything that comes between.’


The scientific method first developed by Christians in early modern Europe provides the best tool for understanding the material universe. This is one anchor in life.


Beyond science, there is knowledge and truth to be found. All we have to do is to be brave enough to seek it out with open minds and a curious spirit. The path towards a more truthful perspective is never easy. To help us on our personal quest for truth, it is worth remembering that prayer has the power to both nurture and heal. This is an anchor in life that we can’t do without.



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