During the current pandemic, many people around the world have turned to prayer. Research by Jeanet Bentzen, an economist at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, found that internet searches on prayer skyrocketed during the period of time when COVID-19 began to rapidly proliferate around the globe.
After analyzing data from Google searches across 95 countries, she found, “In March 2020, the share of Google searches for prayer surged to the highest level ever recorded, surpassing all other major events that otherwise call for prayer, such as Christmas, Easter, and Ramadan” (“In crisis, we pray: Religiosity and the COVID-19 pandemic,” CEPR Press, May 20, 2020).
People are praying for the general population of their own and other countries; for key workers, such as nurses, custodial staff, and grocery store clerks; for public health officials; and even for national recovery plans. But what is the best way to pray? Over several decades, I’ve found Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures to be a wonderful resource, filled with practical ideas about how to pray—and how to pray specifically regarding disease.
The book evolved from the experience of its author, Mary Baker Eddy (1821 to 1910), a devoted Christian from New England in the United States. Throughout her life she leaned heavily on the Bible and its promises of God always being with us, including in illness. Much of her life was given to persistently learning how to see those promises fulfilled.
A defining moment for her came in her early twenties, when her husband of six months passed on from yellow fever. This was the first of many painful and difficult circumstances that compelled her to seek an understanding of how Jesus healed—and healed so consistently. Many challenging experiences over the next decades taught her to rely on God alone for solutions.
In 1866, prayer healed her of internal injuries caused by an accident. This was a key moment in her coming to understand how to be well and how to heal others—and how to teach others to do so. She and her students healed people of many illnesses, including tuberculosis, diphtheria, and malaria. She shared much of what she learned about prayer and healing in Science and Health, first published in 1875.
The book teaches protection from and healing of all kinds of difficulties, including disease, based on the understanding of our identity as Godlike, purely spiritual. This means that instead of height or skin color or age defining us, what gives us our individuality is God, infinite Spirit and Love. In the same way that the naked eye can’t see that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa, our pure spirituality can’t be seen with the physical eye—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Despite all human appearances, God knows us eternally and unchangingly in our real, spiritual being. And because our true makeup is spiritual, we include spiritual qualities such as joy, kindness, strength, intelligence, honesty, integrity, and health, which we can express in our daily living. These qualities are our true substance.
Our present spiritual nature as God’s expression is a dependable basis for prayer that brings healing, as the first chapter in Science and Health, “Prayer,” brings out. Such prayer isn’t asking God for something we don’t have, but an awakening to what we already do have and what we forever are as God’s creation. True prayer isn’t repeating a set of words or pleading for God to intervene; it’s realizing and understanding present spiritual reality.
In March of this year, I once again had an opportunity to experience the effectiveness of this approach to prayer. Having just given my last talk in Nigeria on a speaking tour of three African countries, I began to have a very sore throat. I prayed to see more clearly the innate immunity to sickness that is mine as the spiritual reflection of God. A friend gladly agreed to pray for me as well.
Late that same night, I received a message from a family member saying that the Canadian government was asking all Canadians, if they were not exhibiting symptoms, to return home while commercial flights were still in operation. I decided to go home to Ottawa as soon as possible, and because my throat was still sore, I asked my friend to continue praying with me.
Our present spiritual nature is a dependable basis for prayer that brings healing.
My circumstances at that moment were uncertain. Would I be able to get flights from Nigeria to Canada? If so, would I be considered healthy enough to travel? Or would I have to stay where I was and spend weeks or even months far from home in a hotel room?
I wanted to be healthy, and I wanted to travel, but there was no question that I would comply with pandemic regulations in order to protect others. Science and Health teaches that applying the practical ethics of Jesus’ teaching to do to others as you would have them do to you is the very basis of harmony, including health. One can’t really pray effectively without being fair, honest, and thoughtful toward others. Consequently, I wanted to obey the letter and the spirit of any regulations required by my home country, by the countries through which I passed, and in all airports and airplanes.
My prayer focused in part on the concept of home. In a higher sense, home is not a set of physical circumstances or even the presence of certain people with us. Rather, it’s our consciousness of the ever-presence of the goodness, harmony, and safety that God causes. In truth, then, I was at home no matter where I was physically. As Science and Health says on page 254, “Pilgrim on earth, thy home is heaven; stranger, thou art the guest of God.”
I prayerfully affirmed that as God’s pure, spiritual reflection, each of us receives all that we have directly and exclusively from God, just as a ray of sunlight gets everything from its source, not from the other rays. God, who is infinite good, certainly didn’t cause sickness in me or anyone!
Through prayer, I was able to find and purchase a ticket online that enabled me to leave the next day, although it would take two days of travel to get back to Canada. I then spent much of the day praying to recognize the true, God-given health of people around the world, including my own.
By the time I started my journey, I was completely free of the sore throat. I followed all pandemic health requirements, including passing through a thermal scanner in Accra, Ghana. It confirmed that my temperature was normal. And when I returned to Canada, I self-isolated for two weeks, as required of all travelers coming into the country.
While this was a modest case of both illness and the uncertainty it caused, the Bible-based ideas that fill Science and Health can help us pray effectively in all circumstances. The book says, “Tell the sick that they can meet disease fearlessly, if they only realize that divine Love gives them all power over every physical action and condition” (p. 420). Going far beyond being a compendium of prayer techniques, Science and Health offers valuable insights into who and what we are as children of God and the dominion that this affords us over fear and illness. Whatever we face, we have the most powerful resource of all, God’s ever-present, never-failing love.
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