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  • Writer's pictureRuth Ann Angus

Praying for Peace, Does It Work?

On a recent sunny morning a group of like-minded people gathered around the Peace Pole at the Estero Bay United Methodist Church in Morro Bay, California. They had one intention, united in prayer, to seek for peace and the end of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

To open, Pastor, Stephen Meador led everyone in prayer and went on to speak about resisting evil, loving one’s neighbor, and continuing to hope. A song was sung, and a poem was read, and explanation about the wording on the Peace Pole was given, and everyone had a chance to say a few words revealing their feelings about war and a reliance on God to keep us and all humanity safe. While the word nonviolence was only mentioned once, it was obvious that the inspiration was to embrace the concept. But how?

How can one suggest being nonviolent when viewing the scenes of destruction in Ukraine? How can we ask people who are being bombed to refuse to strike back? How do we stop returning evil for evil, violence for violence? Facing the deaths of civilians, men, women, and children, how would we respond? Can we rely on nonviolence to stop this insanity? Are we brave enough to stand up against the oppressor but still engage in dialogue with him? And what does prayer have to do with this? These are the questions that were on the minds of those gathered around the Peace Pole that day.

There are studies that have found that large group gatherings doing a form of transcendental meditation have reduced acts of violence, lowered the crime rate, and lessened acts of homicide. A study conducted from 2007 to 2010 showed that when the size of a group of transcendental meditators “exceeded the threshold predicted to reduce negative trends, that there was a significant shift in the U.S. National Homicide Rate and Urban Violent Crime.” (Maharishi University of Management) In comparison to the crime rate from 2002 to 2006, the reduction in homicide rate was 21.2% or 5.3% per year and 18.5% or 4.6% per year for violent crime. Keep in mind that for this to be successful, the group must be large enough to have this influence on the United States as a whole. The study was published in SAGE Open Apr 2016, 6 (2). This journal is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).

“I understand it’s a new hypothesis in the social sciences that meditation could have a stress-reducing and coherence-creating effect in society,” said lead author Michael Dillbeck. "But such research is increasingly suggesting that there's a field effect of consciousness. If you get a large enough group together practicing this technique to experience the field quality of consciousness, these extended 'field-like' effects are expressed in society."

That this works with a type of meditation is one thing, but does it work with prayer?

Studies on prayer have centered on whether it has a positive effect on health but not on whether it has any effect on types of violence. Prayer has been studied since 1872 and results show that it has little discernible effect on the health of the person for whom prayer is offered. Some say that prayer can resolve conflict. But can prayer, if done with “a large enough group” as with transcendental meditation, affect violent conflict? Could it make an impact on war?

Praying for peace has been going on for eons, and we seem to be no closer to reaching it than we have ever been. Once a year on January 1st there is a World Day of Peace where the Holy Father imparts a special peace message and every year on September 21st the United Nations celebrates International Peace Day. There is also a World Day of Prayer each year on the first Friday in March. It seems that if a large group of people can make an effect on the U.S. crime rate by some form of meditation that prayer by an equally large group should be able to turn around a conflict such as war.

There are plenty of prayers for peace in general, but this author could find no study that said it could influence, for instance, the war in Ukraine. Could it be the style of prayer being offered is to blame for its ineffectiveness? Prayer often asks God to take care of some problem. Maybe God is not acting because He wants us to take care of the problem ourselves. Maybe the prayer should be one of gratitude.

Let's imagine then, a large enough group of people from every church in the world gathered at the same time on the same day to pray collectively a prayer of thankfulness for the end of war.

Why don’t we all give it a try?

Posted March 11, 2022

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