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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Praying for a Miracle for My Sister and New Atheist Falsehoods about Prayer

Please say a prayer for my sister Antoinette, the one with the glasses. 

I am praying for a miracle for my sister.

You can read part one of this story here and part two here.

I invite you to offer up a prayer for my sister Antoinette if you care to. Thank you.


New Atheists refer to prayer as "Talking to your imaginary sky friend." Here's one random New Atheist comment about prayer from the web, "Talking to your imaginary sky fairy is the next best thing to doing nothing at all."

That's the second clueless thing New Atheists say, that prayer is tantamount to "doing nothing at all."

When I ask people to pray for me or for my sister, I know I am asking them to do something. I am asking them for something precious. I feel grateful to those who have prayed for me.


When I was a grad student at Indiana University, I was attacked by a crazy professor. I didn't know it at the time, but my inner ear burst. I was horribly ill for years afterward, at least partly because medicine doesn't offer any ironclad treatments for those with vestibular – inner ear – disorders. Unable to stop vomiting and often paralyzed, I trekked through three states, from one experimental surgery to another, till a compassionate surgeon broke his Hippocratic oath and "did harm" – he killed my ear, making me deaf that in that ear, but ending the vomiting and paralysis.

Those years were a forced march through hell. My thoughts became as dark as thoughts get. I know what it is to feel so frustrated, hopeless, and betrayed that killing someone else seems to make sense. Believe me, I know.

People I have never met prayed for me. They let me know through the internet.

I *felt* their prayers. I was sure that it was their prayers that kept me going.

And of course the New Atheists would say that I imagined those feelings.

I know the inside of my own head better than the New Atheists do.

So, yes, I am grateful when others pray for me, and I tend to believe in prayer.


On the other hand.

Years ago I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal.

Back in the US, my brother Mike had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

I prayed long distance.

I was living in the Himalaya, far from roads, electricity, running water, even outhouses. My dwelling was made of boards and clay; I was being eaten alive by fleas. And I would hunker down at night, trying to conserve warmth (I was always cold in Nepal) and I would pray for a miracle for my brother Mike. And I was confident that a miracle would occur.

Mike died within months. Me, too, a little bit. Mike died just a few short years after my brother Phil was killed on my birthday.

I spent a long time estranged from God. I have never been able to be an atheist. Believing that God loved other people, and not my family, was easier.


I am praying now for a miracle for my sister.

New Atheists really don't get what prayer is.

Prayer has nothing to do with the New Atheists' "imaginary sky friend." Prayer has nothing to do with "doing nothing while pretending you are doing something."

Prayer is work. Prayer transforms the body. Prayer is palpable. Prayer is investment.

Praying for a miracle for my sister is one of the hardest things I can do.

After what happened with Mike. And Phil. After feeling so crushed, betrayed, and lost.

Why bother?

Because I do believe in miracles.

And I want one for my sister.

I ask myself, am I guilty of arrogance? Is it wrong to ask that God do this? Wouldn't it be more Christian to accept whatever fate God decrees?

But, I see Jesus performing miracles, and instructing his disciples to do so.

So, then, why not just pray for a miracle and accept whatever turns out to be God's will?

You try it. You try losing your siblings repeatedly to early death and then exercising hope and prayer and then assuming peace in the face of whatever happens.

I dread crashing that hard again.

"Exercising hope": it really is an exercise.

I change physically when I pray. I don't attempt to make these changes happen; they just do, and they surprise me. I can feel changes in my breathing, in how my organs bump up against each other. I can feel changes in my relationship to surrounding reality. I can feel changes in what part of my brain is working, and how it's working.

I just did a google search of "physical effects of prayer" and found an article about research by Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard:

"Benson has documented on MRI brain scans the physical changes that take place in the body when someone meditates. When combined with recent research from the University of Pennsylvania, what emerges is a picture of complex brain activity:

As an individual goes deeper and deeper into concentration, intense activity begins taking place in the brain's parietal lobe circuits -- those that control a person's orientation in space and establish distinctions between self and the world. Benson has documented a 'quietude' that then envelops the entire brain.

At the same time, frontal and temporal lobe circuits -- which track time and create self-awareness -- become disengaged. The mind-body connection dissolves, Benson says. And the limbic system, which is responsible for putting 'emotional tags' on that which we consider special, also becomes activated. The limbic system also regulates relaxation, ultimately controlling the autonomic nervous system, heart rate, blood pressure, metabolism, etc., says Benson.

The result: Everything registers as emotionally significant, perhaps responsible for the sense of awe and quiet that many feel. The body becomes more relaxed and physiological activity becomes more evenly regulated."


I have to wrestle with myself before I pray for a miracle for my sister. I have to give ear to my despair and my sense of catastrophe. And then I have to allow for hope. And then I confront Jesus, and remind him of his promises. And then I ask to be made worthy even to pray. Then I surrender to prayer, and everything changes. I do experience that peace that surpasses understanding.


  1. A moving post.

    I’ll send the link to a dear friend of mine whose husband recently received brutal news regarding a brain tumor. As in, “it’s our responsibility to tell you that this could be a matter of months.” They have two small children and a third on the way.

    Thank you for this.

    1. Dear Liron, I just prayed for your friend in Jesus' name.

      My heart goes out to you and your friends. And to the baby.

  2. I will be praying for your sister and yourself starting this evening.