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Prayer, Plain and Simple

Prayer, Plain and Simple

Halloween and the Prayer, “Deliver Us from the Evil One”

posted by Mark Herringshaw

There’s no way around it for me anymore. I can’t pass off the horror images associated with Halloween today as anything other than evil. Does anyone really imagine than an 8-year old should trick or treat dressed up as an ax murderer? All in jest of course! Have we lost our minds when we lost our heads?

As I said yesterday this all leads me to the unavoidable conclusion that evil is real and evil comes from an Evil One, a devil, Satan as Christians call him.

Jesus took the Devil seriously. In the prayer he taught his followers he concluded with “Deliver us from the Evil One.” The old translations usually say, “…from evil,” but they are inaccurate. A more accurate rendering is “from the Evil One.” Personal, as in with a Persona and a will and a mind and intent.

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But while Jesus acknowledged the reality of a spirit being at loose in the world wreaking havoc and making trouble – real trouble – he also didn’t panic in the face of this foe. He stood ground and taught his followers to do the same. Jesus prayed and then stood. That’s to be our posture, I believe.

Yes, the world is crippled by evil. Yes, evil as a face and a name and mission. But evil and the Evil One do not have the last word. The last word is Jesus. And while the faces of Halloween may stomp and muster up the dust of fear and misery, we need never yield to fear or misery. We can pray and “Deliver us from the Evil One,” then rest well.

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There’s an urban legend told of Martin Luther, the 16th century Christian leader. Supposedly he was attacked one night in his bed with horrible dreams, terrors, and the like. As he woke he felt the presence of a terrible Force in his room. When he dared open his eyes he saw a shadowy figure standing at the foot of his bed. The shadow turned and there stood Satan himself. Luther, still in a sweat breathed a sigh of relief, “Oh, it’s only you.” Then he rolled over and went back to sleep! 

When you’re afraid of evil and the Evil One, pray in faith the words Jesus taught… Then roll over and go back to sleep!

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The Science of Prayer: Byrd’s Benchmark Study

posted by Mark Herringshaw

Let me admit to my skeptical readers here in this first sentence: Prayer experiments are riddled with scientific paradoxes. I get that. They prove nothing absolutely. Then again, neither do experiments in quantum reality. Do we debunk them as “not real science” because we can observe actions and reactions but can’t thoroughly explain them? Of course not. Science is just not as certain as it once was. It now too is a matter of faith…

That said, I want to post a few accounts of some of the most famous or infamous prayer/medical studies completed in the last 20-30 years. Again, I understand there are problems with these studies. My point isn’t to use them as proof of God or prayer but simply to highlight that SOMETHING is going on here…

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One landmark study in intercessory prayer was conducted in 1988 by cardiologist Randolph Byrd at San Francisco General Hospital. Byrd built and executed a model that not only withstood (mostly) the scrutiny of methodological critique, but also demonstrated the first clear case of statistical significance from intercessory prayer. You can read his article at: Byrd, R .B. (1988). Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population.  Southern Medical Journal, 81, 826-829. 

Byrd, a cardiologist and practicing Christian began with two questions: 1) Does intercessory prayer to the Judeo-Christian God have any effect on the patient’s medical condition and recovery while in the hospital?  2) How are these effects characterized, if present?  To measure for these effects, Byrd randomly assigned 393 patients in his coronary care unit into two groups.  One group of 192 patients was prayed for by outside intercessors from around the country).  The intercessors were informed of the patients’ names and clinical status and asked to pray daily (until the patient was discharged) “for a rapid recovery and for prevention of complications and death, in addition to other areas of prayer they believed to be beneficial to the patient”. The second group of 201 patients, the control group, did not receive this experimental prayer.  All patients knew they were participating in a study on prayer but only the research nurse administrating the study knew which patients were in which group. Thus, the study met the double-blind, placebo-controlled criteria of typical clinical trials. 

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Byrd collected data on each patient “in a blinded manner, without knowledge of the spiritual status, condition, or ideas of the entrants during the study”.  Once gathered, the data was entered into a PDP-11 computer using a medical statistical package called Biomedical Data Processing. 

Patients entering the study were assessed according to 30 specific health criteria and were then randomly assigned to one of the two groups.  Univariant and multivariant analysis of each patient’s condition at the time they entered the study revealed no statistical difference between these groups, anchoring the claim that an evaluation of the effects of intercessory prayer, the controlled for treatment, would be valid. 

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After entry all patients were monitored for the remainder of their hospitalizations.  New problems, diagnoses, and interventions were catalogued.  Byrd used descriptive statistics to report percentages of medical conditions and medical procedures.  He used means +/- one standard deviation (stepwise logistic regression) for data utilizing multivariant analysis.  Results were also inferentially reported through chi-squares for categorical data and through unpaired t-tests for interval data.   

In addition, Byrd built a health scoring code grading the treatment course for each patient during their stay: good, intermediate, or bad.  This score was an interpretation of the cumulative health categories measured during hospitalization.  The hospital stay (course) was considered good if no new diagnoses were recorded for the patient.  The course as considered intermediate if there were somewhat higher levels of risk of death.  The course was considered bad for patients who had high risk of death. 

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According to Byrd’s multivariant analysis of data gathered during the patient’ hospitalizations revealed a significant difference between the two groups (P < .0001).  Specifically, fewer patients in the prayer group required ventilatory support, antibiotics, or diuretics.   On the scoring levels, 85% of those in the prayer group were graded with a good course compared to 73% in the control group.  1% of the prayer group had intermediate courses against 5% in the control group.  And 14% of the prayer group had a bad course, while 22% of the control group took this score.   A 2 by 3 chi-square analysis of these data found that P <.01.  Thus, the statistical variance was significant: patients in the control group were nearly twice as likely to suffer complications, more than twice as likely to suffer heart failure, three times more likely to require diuretics and to suffer pneumonia, and nearly five times more likely to need antibiotics as were the patients in the prayer group.

Proof? No. But Byrd’s chutzpah to dare to test prayer in the laboratory did yield some tantalizing results.

What do you think?

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Pumpkin Carving for Halloween and the Face of Evil

posted by Mark Herringshaw

Carving grotesque faces into pumpkins and lighting the cavity with a candle is a treasured American Halloween tradition. I can’t remember a October from my childhood without reliving the squeamish delight: burying my hands into the slimy guts of a big orange gourd, dishing out handfuls of wet seeds, spreading them out on newspapers to dry, picking them out and then roasting them on a flat pan in the oven, and of course sketching in pencil the outlines of a distorted face on the pumpkin then cutting the lines. It was one of the only times my meticulous and protective mother let me play with knives. Good and complete memories.

Why did we, and why do we do this strange tradition? Folk lore supposedly links the idea back to the legends that spooky faces would spook away the real spooks on the day of the dead. When ghosts or other uncouth spirits came-a-calling they’d be chased off by the toothy grins and scowls of jack-o-lanterns flickering on the threshold. The logic seems confusing from our post-modern enlightened positions. How can tamed evil – our gargoyles in the round – do our battles for us, chasing away purveyors of wickedness that come knocking. Can evil defeat evil? Why don’t we post depictions of angels as our sentries at the door? Mmm.

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I can’t help but wonder if this mythic tradition has something to do with our deeply guarded instinct that evil really does have a face. I checked and there’s nothing unusually horrific about this morning’s news. Just another day of suicide bombings, a gang rape in a public high school, the arrest of 60 pimps for trafficking child prostitutes. Nothing new here. But if we dare step back and look again, we can be rightly horrified. This world is FULL OF EVIL. Like the frog in the boiling kettle, we’re accustomed – dare I say “normalized” – to evil. Just another day on the road “going to hell in a hand basket.”

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For most of human history we’ve explained the nature of evil in the world by giving it a name. It’s no longer chic to believe that evil has a Persona, but that has been the long standing solution to the so called “problem of evil.” There’s a Devil out there screwing things over.

The contention is hard to refute, if we look at it honestly. Human evil is so pervasive and creative that seems to have a force of will and a mind capable of conceiving and plotting, then lying in ambush to execute its execution. Is there any other explanation for wickedness other than to assign responsibility to a Being who sources it? What other species on the planet has invented the equivalent of gas chambers or ritualistic sexual abuse? Seriously – What long term benefit explains the perversions in the mind that dreamt up waterboarding or crucifixion or water torture?

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I once watched a nature documentary about a male African lion systematically killing lion cubs fathered by a rival. His work was merciless, purposeful and efficient, and in a begrudging, perfectly logical: He was defending his genetic line. The violence had good reason and while it seemed distasteful to me, I wouldn’t and didn’t call it “evil.”

But what reason explains the woman who burned her two month old child with cigarettes, or the teens from a wealthy suburb who stabbed a homeless man just to see him bleed, or the NFL quarterback who bred dogs to tear at the throats of other dogs,? There’s no evolutionary explanation for so such human behavior. The only answer is to call evil “evil” and to give it a face and a will, and name it The Devil. Yes, I believe in a personal Devil. I can’t see any other way to explain the likes of Charles Manson.

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Identifying evil with a Persona does explain the woeful persistence, creativity and adaptability of treachery. Horror too struggles to survive in this do or die universe. Could it be that by cutting faces in pumpkins on the day of the year we “play” at remembering and agitating our instinctive revulsion to death and torment and fear is for us a subliminal act of putting a “face” on Evil? Maybe we all deep down the slimy heart of the cavity of our soul know that the Devil is real.  Maybe too we know we need a light beyond our own power to shine out into the darkness and expose him for the fraud and usurper he is.

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Halloween as a Path to God?

posted by Mark Herringshaw

I drove past a Halloween lawn decoration scene that’s haunting me. I suppose that is the intent. Haunting. The picture is right out of a run-of-the-mill horror flick: a manikin dressed in a coat and tie and carrying a briefcase and a shotgun that has just blown off the front half of his face… Happy Halloween!  

I know Halloween is all in fun. Most of us play along. When our children were small we dressed them up and marched them round the neighborhood to beg – with a veiled threat of extortion – from near strangers who have moral obligation to spend their good money contributing to America’s dental industry. I get it, that Halloween is all a gag, a way of teasing our instinct of revulsion. But when I step back for a critical look, I have to admit: something is perversely wrong with this “celebration.” Honestly, and there’s no way around it, Halloween depicts and flirts with evil.

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And for that reason, I’m taking it as a path to God. Really.

Evil is one of the chief reasons I believe in God. Evil lives, and the very fact that I know it and recognize it and fear and hate it convinces me that Evil has actual substance and a face and that evil is wrong and must be defeated. It’s darkness that lets me recognize what isn’t light but also what IS LIGHT. In this sense, the face of evil in the gimmicks of horror paraded about the last weeks of October becomes a window for me to know in a new way the goodness of God. Contrast reveals truth!

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The senseless, stupid, horrific lawn depiction of a man blasting off his head is so starkly vile that it can, if we will let it, turn our eyes toward the God who gives life purpose and gives us hope beyond the certainly to death. Halloween, by contrast can lead us to pray to a gentle, good, and faithful God who counters whatever evil is present and pervasive.

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