"The road to Lourdes is littered with crutches.....yet not a single wooden leg".
As a small child my bedtime ritual was the usual toilet, brush teeth, pyjamas on.....and then last thing before getting in to bed I'd kneel by the bedside and say a prayer. I'd invoke God and ask for protection during sleep, and offer prayers for my parents and sister, and so on. After all, I was brought up as a churchgoing Catholic. Of course if there was some special thing that needed extra prayers, I might be prompted to add them in - to pray for a sick grandparent or somesuch would be an example - and I remember at a very early age being aware of the plight of the hungry people in the world, and I might pray for them too. I don't know when it occurred, or exactly how much of this is from my unconscious re-writing of memories (as we do) but I have a really strong recollection of praying for the whole world, and visualizing as if from orbital space my prayerful intention encompassing the globe in a sort of wash of light. Being then a child, I never really questioned the whys and wherefores of such a visualization, but I did really like that part of the prayer the best, maybe just because it lay at the end of what was really just another pre-bedtime chore for the most part as time went on, but I did have a sense that not to do it would be somehow unfair. After all, I'm supposedly getting some deal done with God; why should my family be singled out for special attention when other people need it too? I mean, how dare I tell Him what's important? That humility was a virtue was not something I ever remember being taught specifically, but it was a strong if subtle lesson nonetheless, especially from my father.
I have friends of many faiths, no faith, syncretic personal faiths.....allsorts really. Being a Westerner there are naturally lots of Christians, and they're a really mixed mob in themselves. And the notion of prayer is especially important to many; I see requests for prayers multiple times a day on my Facebook feed, and even more close to home I have many people offer their prayers for me and my family, sometimes as a matter of course, but moreso because of my situation, I guess. It's a lovely thing.
Some of those who offer prayers also offer a little of their spiritual worldview. I suspect sometimes their version of faith demands a little proselytizing. Once upon a time I would have bridled a little, being one of those Catholic children that quite early on saw The Bible Thing as manmade myth and emotional sustenance for a flock of subscribers, and as foundation and buttress for maintaining organisations amongst the people. You know, a bit like Santa. Now however, although I cannot really be called Christian except insofar as I take those alleged lessons of Jesus to heart and practice them in my life on my own recognisance, I am accepting and perfectly comfortable with the knowledge that we all have different paths to where we're going, and that for some people a learned dogma and the wearing of a set of beliefs passed from another can be a valuable thing indeed. A way of spiritual growth even. I'm also now aware that these genuinely-felt prayers are more than some empty delusional ritual or social bonding tool. Of course, they can be those things too, but I'm looking here at the real things beneath, behind, between the words and gestures. Outside the structure of religion.
The question at the heart of it is this - do intercessionary prayers, and their analogs in other traditions, actually do anything? Do they affect the intended 'recipient's' life and reality? Well, quantum physics seems to allow the possibility, but I'm not going to go down the science route on this one today. And if they do, this raises a problematic issue and a further question - are we being unfair when we call for some divine intercession on behalf of some specific individual or circumstance? Isn't this then a case of 'opportunity cost' whereby someone else doesn't get a prayer said for them? Who are we to judge who is worthier than another, or worthy at all? WWJD etc? Or does this just not matter, because God does as God will regardless, heedless of our petty egotism, and we should accept that our even thinking to pray for that person was all part of God's Plan anyway (thus seemingly negating free agency and leaning towards a predeterminatory view of the universe)?
Big questions. To which of course I have no answers that would stand up to everyone's personal truth tests.
There doesn't need to be a theology with a divine overseeing being to have a faith or 'way' that includes intercessionary practice. Shamanism, so-called 'spiritual healing', all manner of New Age memes and brands like The Secret and their various cosmologies and worldviews all have as part of their core some way wherein a practitioner or believer can access a reality beyond the 3D we spend most of our consciousness in and bring the energies of that other - or extra - reality to bear in our everyday lives. Just like praying to a God (or performing some other religious obeisance) would mean to do.
For an intercessionary prayer to 'work', though, what is required, and how can we judge its efficacy anyway? More big questions. Time to speak more personally, then.
Energy flows where attention goes....so of course attention also goes where energy flows.
As always, I'm not making any special claims on truth or correctness or anything of the sort, and you must weigh my opinions in the light of your own experience and reality. But this axiom is one that is too frequently observable and demonstrable to ignore for me, and forms a real underpinning of my worldview. Let's take as read that I do acknowledge the reality of things beyond our immediate observable universe though, that there is more to existence than we see/hear/touch etc. I refer to it by many names. My current favourite is the Silence Between All Things. This also nicely encapsulates the way that this 'other' exists contemporaneously with the everyday 3D world, permeating and nestling within and without, and as such is not really an 'other' at all, just an extension of the One Thing that is All. You get my drift.
This axiom has meaning when it comes to directive prayer and spiritual intent, but would be played out very differently in a worldview with a God figure or 'other' from a worldview with an all-is-one (all is God) frame. Let's look at the latter first. (Full disclosure: I have myself worked in the realm of 'spiritual healing' for want of a less loaded descriptor, so am speaking from my direct experience also). If I make a healing directive of meditation, or 'pray' for the healing of another person, or their situation, then I would be bringing to bear energies or forces that are inherent in all things - The Force, if you will. I am not seeking an external agency to perform some action. Further to this, as one delves more deeply into this sort of thing, one very quickly realises that to judge at all is simple defeating of the purpose. To a priori decide to 'send light to the heart chakra' because this person is in emotional distress or something similar is nothing short of me overlaying my intellect (my ego) on the situation. It says that I believe I know what a good outcome for this person would be. Yet all spiritual teaching, all religion, and my personal experience also speaks loudly that we are simply to small/disconnected/mortally bound to be judges. That our minds give us opinions more often than not, rather than any actual Inspired insight into what needs to happen. On the other hand, I can decide to sit back and watch what happens when I think of a particular person and their wellbeing. That gets interesting, and the better I am able to stay an observer, the more I see what a theist might call God's work in action. This is why I stopped working in the field. Because of my realisation that my 'work' is not required.
Because the very act of choosing to consciously 'watch' or 'witness' when something crosses my path in life - when someone asks for help, or I simply see something that speaks of imbalance or what I think of as 'needing cleaning' then the attention is already there on it. The energy is already going there. Because it happened, if my first notion was one of healing intent, then I trust that healing is directed there anyway. This is my closest pass with blind faith, but it's based on my observation over and over that what I 'do' actually works. Not for any particular outcome, but it improves my experience of the person or situation involved, and after all - this is really all I can influence in life, yes? As they say in many disciplines, as soon as you ask, it is done. I'm just not asking God, is all, I'm simply remembering to do what I believe at heart our way of evolution and spiritual life requires - honest witnessing. It's why I pray for things to be as they are, and choose to see things as well as my messy mind permits, in each moment.
In fact, in Spiritualist circles, they speak of a phenomenon called 'magnetic healing'; similar things are spoken of in Reiki and many other dogmas and disciplines. It's where the healer uses their own personal energy - that which is sustaining and fuelling their own body and mind - to effect the being and systems of another. It can happen, I can vouch for having done and seen exactly that. There are those who work in the healing arts who often speak of being 'drained' after a session. This is typically because they have transferred of their own sustaining energy. There is a certain type of person in the world who lives to receive this stuff too, they act in essence as vampires. You see them a lot in the social media; always wanting the energy of others. As soon as they are met with the Universal energy though, they can react very very strongly, and sometimes quite negatively by resisting or running away. Never mind them. We are not concerned with that here. What I'm saying, in essence, is that the God-Is-In-Everything-Therefore-Everything-Including-You Is-God worldview tends inexorably towards a non-intercessionary sort of prayerfulness. One that does not presume to think that person X "needs to know God", or "needs more energy in their base chakra" or that "more people donate to the Japan Earthquake appeal" or anything of the sort. Tends, I said. That part is important.
So on to a theistic, God-Is-Other worldview. This is the one I was brought up with initially, that child who prayed to God to keep me safe at night, to look after my family, to feed the hungry. This sort of practice can be a really valuable path of learning what constitutes good and useful values and morals, as it externalizes our thoughts and judgements of what is right and good in order to offer them to God (or whatever). We are able to consciously self-examine. In this sort of intercessionary prayerfulness we assume that the 'work' is done by another agency, a God or Divine Being. And that they listen to us. Of course it also implies the corollary, that if we did NOT pray to them on this issue, they may well not intercede. It actually implies a lack of faith that the God in question always does what is right and good anyway, and that the deity involved requires certain actions from us in order to fulfil their part of some deal. I find this a fearful attitude. We can extrapolate easily that since we do not (in this worldview) trust that what is good and right will always happen without our asking consciously of God, then we are living in a punitive situation. We must do certain stuff in order not to piss off God. Let me put it another way: If God is in charge, knows all, and means well, then why would we bother to ask for prayers for person "x" if we didn't trust that God is on the case anyway? For there are people who firmly believe that the more people that pray for an outcome, or for healing, or some less-specified thing but a thing nonetheless, the more likely it is to occur. This part I actually tend to agree with. The second part of the axiom above shows us that when a whole bunch of energy gets put into something, people's attention are naturally drawn there. I think the probability of world peace is greatly enhanced by increasing the numbers of people praying for it to happen. But this is a function of the axiom we started with, not the intercession of a deity counting heads and deciding when we've done a good enough job of appealing to some script of theirs.
There's a Christian thing about us humans not being worthy to judge - to cast the first stone, or to presume to be able to know God's ways. et requesting an intercession is exactly that - a presumption that we know what is required. Perhaps it is part of God's plan for a person NOT to get better. And of course, there are limits anyway aren't there? As evinced by all those wooden legs one does not find on the road to Lourdes, etcetera.
However, the tenets and structures and dogmas of religion and theistic practices are a wonderful legacy we have for learning from. It has been said that prediction is faith in the past. And that those who do not learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat it. I have no quarrel with any religious thought or practice that seeks to help the practitioner learn and grow in spirit, and there is a path in most all varieties of dogmatic legacy to do that, it seems to me.
What I've learned on my journey about prayer is that it's vital for my peace of being and growth. My practice of prayerfulness, with gratitude to all creation, and seeking ever-closer connection with the Silence Between All Things while I am still here, alive, and in seeking to witness what healing there is taking place in the world makes me feel closer to what a theist must call God. I am SO not enlightened, but I am feeling like I'm on a good groove for me. The path has pain, and doubt, and challenge, but also peace and joy and love. I hope yours does too.
So let's pray, together, for nothing in particular, yes?
EDIT: For those who still wish to contribute meaningfully and materially,
the link is still open here: