Posts tagged ‘Prayer’

Spirituality in Daily Life: The Physics of Prayer – Choosing Mystery || Mary Coday Edwards

By Mary Coday Edwards
People House Featured Blogger

Before you scoff, roll your eyes, and close this blog, hear me out.

While living in Mexico, I was a member of a motley online discussion group with members who had too much time on their hands. When group member and retired economist Norm ended up in the hospital with a life-threatening health issue, Catholic Art Professor Darrell wrote Norm that he was praying for him.

In addition to online eye rolling, that phrase released a barrage of harsh and cold-hearted criticisms at Darrell from the agnostics and atheists of the group.

Many of us have left the traditional religions of our younger selves. Prayer conjures up images of an old white guy with a beard, whom we diligently hoped to placate/coerce in order to keep the bad things at bay and get the good things we wanted. 

And I understand that need, the need to turn to something, especially in times of desperation. When I lived in Tanzania, a drought hit the region. We could see the thunderous rain clouds billowing and building in the hills around us, so close it was if we could lasso them and drag them to our patch of rapidly dying crops and cattle. I knew it was illogical, but I was ready to slaughter a chicken against the tire of my car if that would nudge those rain clouds our way.  Could I dance a certain way that would move the gods and hence draw the rain? (Note 1)


Rain dances aside, my reality is informed by ideas from quantum physics.  I don’t purport to understand the math behind the theory; however, renowned physicist Ricard Feynman is quoted as saying, “I think I can safely say that no one understands quantum mechanics”, so I know I’m in good company.

But through studying and contemplating the implications of quantum ideas, my reality now includes an interconnected universe, full of potentialities and one where my efforts matter, as I mentioned in last month’s blog.

I will refer to three concepts from quantum mechanics (QM) in this blog (Note 2):

Neil Bohr’s Principle of Complementarity;

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle; and

The EPR Paradox (or the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Paradox)

Bohr’s Principle of Complementarity grew out of the understanding that light can behave as a wave or a particle – both of which are mutually exclusive. Scientists choose an experiment to show that light is a wave or one that shows light is a particle. And it’s not known what light may be doing when it’s not forced to behave one way or another. The scientist no longer stands outside what he/she is observing (classical, Newtonian physics) but the scientist becomes part of the experiment; this is often referred to as an observer-influenced reality.

In addition, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle sheds some light on the subject. It is impossible to measure simultaneously both position and momentum, which are fundamental physical attribute of a sub-atomic particle – only probabilities can be known. Due to the particle’s minuteness, any attempt to measure the location will change its velocity.  

The verdict isn’t in yet – is this a reflection of the limitations of our measuring devices (Einstein)? Or is it ontological, fundamental aspects of nature (Werner Heisenberg)? Philosophically, Heisenberg and others suggest that these probabilities of QM refer to tendencies in nature that include a range of possibilities (within the limitations of that entity being studied). More than one alternative is open and there is some opportunity for unpredictable novelty. And of QM, Heisenberg said what we observe is not nature itself, but rather nature exposed to our method of questioning.

An easy example – stress. Medically we now know that stress can make our bodies really sick. On a sub-atomic level, what’s that doing to our cells? And so we do make choices; i.e., am I going to let my anger make me ill or am I going to do something constructive about it, such as exercise, which alleviates those chemicals that are throwing my  cells into havoc. We talk about genetic tendencies – for example, there is a genetic tendency for alcoholism but choices can still be made to mitigate that tendency. In other words – there’s potentiality in those cells – but it isn’t determined yet – the future hasn’t been decided.

In addition, from the ERP Paradox ideas have emerged implying action at a distance and quantum entanglement, as well as system laws that are not derived from the entity’s individual parts.  

All we need is Love

So back to Norman – his cells were running amuck. Darrell was obviously feeling compassion for a suffering Norman. Who knows what sort of “divine” energy – and energy is what keeps all of our parts moving – may be represented in that compassion that is coming from somewhere within Darrell.

Therefore, Darrell’s prayers: Can they have an “observer-influenced” effect? And if so, then what impact did that energy have on Norman’s body?

Or are we humans so limited in our vision of reality that it only includes that which our physical senses detect? And other ways of “knowing”, such as intuition, don’t exist? And that we can’t influence the “energy” coming off of our own person?

My guess is that Darrell, out of his compassion, wanted wholeness, health, and recovery for Norman, a noble and a good thing.  But other distresses were also at work in Norman’s body.  Maybe that range of possibilities within Norman’s cells/entire system had been reduced, compromised.

A definition of compassion includes entering into someone else’s suffering.  Not only is that a powerful value, but it keeps us human. And we humans have a lot more power/energy/life than we give ourselves credit for.

And this compassion we feel: is it Divine Love moving within us? At our deepest self, have we tapped into the Universal Being, this holy spirit which permeates all? Again, as I noted in last month’s blog, this is my “as if” function, which isn’t based on magic, but on how our universe appears to be operating. My efforts DO matter in an interconnected cosmos.


Note 1: During the height of the Cold War, when the United States and the USSR competed for world dominance, left-leaning Tanzania experienced a devastating drought. The administration of then President J.F. Kennedy sent boatloads of food to the starving nation. Therefore, when I was there in the 1990s, although groundwater supplies were easily accessible, the people were waiting for the U.S. government to come to their rescue again. This is also an example of aid gone wrong.

Note 2: Many books are available explaining the ideas behind QM in a non-mathematical format. John Polkinghourne’s “Quantum Theory, A Very Short Introduction,” is a good place to start.

About the Author: Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Growing Pains: Mercy – Lydia Taft

Many years ago I was a Sunday school teacher for seven-year-old children.  I was responsible for preparing them for baptism when they turned eight.  One of the lessons I taught required me to line up chairs around the room in a maze.  I was to walk the children blindfolded through the maze and to a picture of Christ.  As I blindfolded one of the students she looked at me with hesitation and begged, “Please be careful with me Sister Taft.” 

My heart was touched by her simple statement and a truth was revealed to me…

That is my prayer always, every day of my life. 

Please be careful with me Spirit.  Please be careful with me.  I don’t know what road I’m traveling and I’m uncertain about the obstacles laid out before me, but I will allow you to guide me on my journey.  Just please be careful with me.  Have mercy on me in my fear and ignorance.

That day I realized how much fear I carried in my heart about what the future held.  I had based my opinions on many past experiences that I had suffered.  I understood that my life was in my hands. I had the free will to make decisions.  And that was the problem.  I was sitting in judgment about how well I messed up my life.  I was sitting in judgment about what my life looked like.  And I was sitting in judgment about all the pain I had recently experienced, which I hoped to never face again.  I held tightly to the fearful thought that I would continue down the same dark path.  So I asked for mercy from a greater being than myself, hoping I might avoid more pain.

I understand that prayer a bit differently now. 

I have learned that I didn’t need to ask Spirit for mercy.  I was already viewed from a loving perspective.  Love is only ever capable of love.  I really only needed to ask myself for mercy. I needed to find compassion in my own heart for me. I needed to release the judgments that weighed me down.  Yes, I had experienced some painful things, but what I didn’t realize at the time was how much clarity I had also received about the type of future I desired.  In the knowing of what I didn’t want, I more fully understood what I did want. My fear stemmed from my lack of understanding that I was being propelled toward something greater.  I am pleased to realize that I got here despite myself. 

Looking back on that past prayer I see that, like me, it has transformed and grown in clarity. 

My joy and my pain remain in my hands. 

It’s only ever my focus that must be directed, and sometimes redirected.  Today I can acknowledge the love that is always flowing to me, my ability to be receptive to that love, and the truth that is me.  Today my prayer would more accurately say:

I promise I will be careful and kind with me.  I am valuable.  The roads that I choose to travel on will honor my inner being.  I will seek experiences that feel joyful and fulfilling to me.  I will not worry myself about avoiding things that are painful.  When I find myself feeling that I have gone off course, I will seek clarity about the experiences I would prefer.  I will guide myself on this journey with love and compassion. I will walk in trust, acknowledging that all experiences I have enhance and broaden my perspective.  I will seek and find clarity in all areas of my life.  And most of all, I will be merciful with me.

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