Is prayer a viable alternative to conventional medicine for health?

It’s not about what this or that studies says you should or shouldn’t do for your health but what does or doesn’t work – for you. Photo: ©

LOS ALTOS, CA, August 5, 2013 – Is relying on prayer in lieu of conventional medicine a viable alternative for your health? It depends, in part, on how you define prayer.

If the assumption is that prayer is little more than a shot in the dark, a desperate plea to an unknown entity to do something He or It isn’t naturally inclined to do, then no, it’s probably not a good idea. On the other hand, if by “prayer” you mean a particular discipline of thought that benefits both mind and body, then yes, without a doubt.

Too often, though, any debate about the practicality of prayer includes a glib pronouncement that “studies show,” without ever defining what the word means. Studies show prayer works. Studies show prayer doesn’t work. Of course, the same could be said about conventional medicine. Studies show drugs and surgery work. Studies show drugs and surgery don’t work.

Without a more complete explanation, none of these statements is accurate or even remotely helpful. Even worse, they might actually be reinforcing an artificial comparison between one method of health care and another.

For those who rely on prayer for their health, the choice is not necessarily between the doctor and the Divine, but between ignoring and exploring something that personal experience suggests could factor into the health and well being of every single one of us, regardless of if we are aware of it, understand it, or even believe in it.

That “something” might be defined as anything from the proverbial bearded man in the sky to an invisible yet undeniable gravity-like force to an always-present, all-knowing divine consciousness governing one and all.

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In addition to having a workable definition of prayer, however, there is also the matter of how it is utilized, particularly when someone’s health is involved. Like most things in life, our ability to benefit from any health practice – prayer, conventional medicine, or some other alternative – is in direct proportion to our understanding of it and experience with it, not unlike someone crossing a city street needing to be aware of how crosswalks work.

Walking wishfully through heavy traffic, simply hoping that you won’t be hit by an oncoming car, doesn’t make a lot of sense. Blaming any mishaps that might occur on someone else’s failure to stop would be unreasonable, a complete disregard of the rules and regulations established for your benefit and safety, not to mention the benefit and safety of others. This is not to suggest that prayer needs to be “done right” in order to “work,” only that it requires a certain level of understanding, wisdom, and self-awareness that genuinely supports the health and well being of the individual involved.

Bridging the gap between what “studies show” and what your own experience indicates is best for your health can be difficult. Ultimately, though, it’s not about what this or that study says you should or shouldn’t do, but what does and doesn’t work – for you. If prayer happens to your choice, either now or sometime down the road, its viability can be and will be measured, not just physically, but in the spiritual and moral improvement this health care practice inevitably includes.

Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.


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Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson has been published and featured in numerous newspapers, online publications, and radio talk programs. He speaks from years of experience in the mind-body field, especially as it relates to health. In addition, he is the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California and is a self-employed Christian Science practitioner. He’s also a huge baseball fan and loves riding his bike in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. You can find him at

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