"Do you believe in this?"

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Date : 15 August, 2020

Time: 06:07


Entry :


I woke up thinking of several things. These included the following:

John Cassian, wandering in the desert (about 400AD) to find Desert Fathers with whom to speak.

He was formulating a How-To method. He was looking for an answer to the question: "how should one pray?"


I also woke up thinking about the task I gave myself of reviewing the scientific evidence linked to intercessory prayer.

I have yet to do that review, though I have a pile of articles to read.

My hunch is that I will find a deep divide between Science, and the effectiveness of praying at a distance.

I don't think that this is as complicated as some make it. The two methods are simply different.

They are simply not on the same wavelength. I probably mean that quite literally. Each has its place. Sometimes in accord, and sometimes not. Sometimes complementary which is the ideal result.


This question seems to turn very quickly to discussing beliefs.

"Do you believe in intercessory prayer?"

Careful. You will be judged based on your reply.


I next, having just emerged from it, found myself thinking about sleep.

Does one believe in sleep? Do you believe in sleep?

What a silly question. You participate in that practice for hours each day.


Without "believing" in sleep eventually, it just seems to happen.

And of course, this isn't a once in a lifetime experience. It happens every day.

For almost all human beings on the planet, sleep is present and very real, each and every day.

It occupies approximately one third of a person's life.


Apparently for a fair number of individuals, and I am not one, sleep does not come easily.

And for professionals addressing this issue of sleep facility, methods for obtaining the sleeping state have also been studied and widely written up.


One must have the intention of sleeping.

One must prepare for sleep. One must prepare one's environment.

One must believe that sleep is possble and will eventually manifest.

Yes, some individuals fall asleep in front of the television. It becomes a habit.

And yet at least two components of that leisure time appliance would seem unhelpful, if sleep is the objective.

It makes noise. It emits light in the blue light frequencies of the spectrum.


There is no need to continue here with a list of those things both in one's environment and in oneself that contribute to, or hinder, falling asleep.

We simply do that. We know how. We are experts. It happens.

Look at a baby sleeping. It read no book about the "how-to's" of sleep.

And although sleep laboratories exist, where the various components of sleep, including dreaming can be studied and dissected, most individuals in our world do not need a laboratory to accomplish the result.


Primarily what is needed, is an empty space in which one can lie down.

That's all.


Do you believe that you will fall asleep, perhaps eventually, this evening?

Do you believe that?

In fact, perhaps you are a person who can anticipate falling asleep quite quickly.


Do you believe that a period of sleep can repair and heal your body and mind?

Do you believe that?

Do you believe that quite deeply?


If we distance ourselves from regular sleep too often and for too long, what happens?

We become a mess.

Even before I mention the outcome you have probably already recalled and imagined in your minds eye the results of such an experiment.


Without adequate sleep, we become grumpy, confused, ineffective, rude, get sick, and eventually go quite insane.

It doesn't take many days of abstinence from sleep to lose everything that guides and protects our personal identity and self.


Humans charged with the task of torturing other humans are taught this very soon in their schooling.

If you would like to convince anyone of anything, if you need to obtain an admission of guilt for almost any crime, no need to repeatedly strike a person with a bat, or pinch and pull out the person's fingernails with pliers. Just keep them awake continuously for 72 hours or more.

At that point, your beliefs will become their beliefs. Don't try this at home.


At that point in time, once finally allowed to rest, this poor and forced insomniac will have a clear idea, will have an extremely deep belief, that sleep is the most essential ingredient of normal human existence. An unshakeable existential belief.


It is possible that in some cases insomnia is learned behavior.

And as mentioned above, one can readily find lists of things to do, as well as things not to do, if the goal of sleeping needs more support than simply finding a space to lie down in.


Since Thomas Edison's day, we have increasingly filled our world, our lives, and our two eyes, with blue light.

Yellow light, the kind one perceives when watching the sun gradually set each day, represents nature's "go to sleep" message. We have a nearly failproof way of interpreting that message through our eyes, and our psterior brain, and our pineal gland as it releases more melatonin, and our thalamus is it directs all the rest to say: "gettin' kinda sleepy now."


Blue light, the kind one perceives when watching one's television, one's computer screen, the lights in the kitchen, the light on our nightstand, and yes, even in nature, morning light, represents nature's "wake up" message.


Notice that everything we have been mentioning happens in the absence of belief. The effects of the yellow light, the blue light, not getting enough sleep, and even getting too much sleep, which we had not mentioned, are simply there whether we believe in them or not. So imposing a question or a layer of belief on everything related to sleep and its effects, may not have much significance. Belief is unrelated to the process of sleep. Or so it seems. And of course here too there is pathology. "I'm just not going to be able to go to sleep now !" And perhaps you won't. Perhaps a false belief hiding somewhere?


After all that, let's return to that other topic as I awakened from the first topic, that of intercessory prayer, or praying at a distance as some call it.


How does that compare with the human experience of sleep?


I am not at all implying that when one prays one is somehow mostly or nearly asleep.

Even in that phrase one finds components, for example "when one prays," that I fear a large part of the world cannot presently relate to.

The corollary is quite obviously that many of our world's inhabitants do not pray. Not a question of when they pray. Many just don't pray intentionally.

A percentage will quickly object that they pray in their own way and not as anyone else taught them. Ok. Good. Others will remind that large populations pray non-Western religions daily. Good.


When something happens in one's immediate environment, typically an unwanted event like knocking over one's third glass of wine, and one accompanies the tragedy with "Oh Jesus!…", Is that a prayer? And generalizing that, do many humans, perhaps most, only pray when faced with tragedies of various dimensions?


With a little luck for the reader, I am creeping up on that question of belief.

I am creeping up on that question of does praying at a distance work?


But before slipping into a conundrum of philosophical argument, let's first stay as simple as we did in discussing sleep.


There are techniques for praying.

One can think through for oneself or easily find on the Internet, lists defining the "how-to's" of prayer.

One can go on a retreat at a monastic community, and watch how it is done.

But both are becoming increasingly rare. And by both I mean, retreats, as well as monastic communities. Many have literally become shells, buildings with communities diminishing in size to the poitn of near or actual extinction. In such settings, prayer today seems to resonate with an ever more quiet voice. Does the volume matter?


It would seem that the required knowledge, requisite for our "how-to" list for prayer, has become a rare commodity when compared with the knowledge linked to a successful good night's sleep. Sleep? Sure, we're close to it each day. We've got the know-how. But prayer?


Events and environments in human existence tend to cycle with time.

At certain times prayer was used to support Crusaders while they lopped off available body parts from Infidels. Thinking through this intention in later years, gave prayer a bad rap for many.

When we were children many of us were exposed to prayer in the home and praying publicly in society. One need not approach that image very closely to compare and conclude that our world has again cycled into yet another time and space.


I am not  suggesting that our world is now uniquely populated with pagans, atheists, and the equivalent of Visigoths and Huns breaking all the nice stuff as they passed or settled for a while.


But perhaps a fair number of readers can empathize with the image of John Cassian wandering the desert to talk with hermits that he found there, about prayer and how to pray. Again, that was about 1 thousand, 6 hundred and 20 or so years ago. And the subject was certainly around thousands of years before Cassian is my assumption. "Do you believe in that?" - is obviously still with us today.


It seems probable that prayer appears spontaneously more often when a need arises that is deeply felt.


One thing that the book of Psalms seems to teach is that prayer happened more often when times were bad. Then requests were made of a deity. And usally, the request was accompanied by promises. "If you would just break all my enemy's teeth, I'll take the wife and kids to temple once a week. Promise."

As though deities have to become involved in bargaining with the likes of us !


So just in case you have not personally admitted to yourself and accepted that current events in our world arising in and related to a viral illness named COVID-19, are actually pretty bad, and have been so for a while now, it may be time to accept reality.


Let me assure you it is real, it is or has been bad, and things have not yet turned to good. This, no matter how many promises we might make about exercising and getting in shape, attaining a reasonable weight, if in exchange they would just hurry up with the damn vaccine.


It should not require much belief to agree with that. Now if one is actually a hermit, living in a cave in the middle of a desert, perhaps one has escaped all of this. Without media to bring the hermit details, and without a neighbor who became ill with COVID-19, perhaps even died, why should we believe it? I mean, for that ascetic anchorite or anchoress, where would the proof be?

It would require a visitor to the recluse to bring him or her the news. And why should the recluse believe? Perhaps the messenger has a hidden agenda. Perhaps the messenger is authoring apocryphal writings. Perhaps the messenger works for the Press or Channel 5 News.


Far from being a master of John Cassian's work, (more than just wandering deserts, he was a key originator of western monasticism), I will make one assumption about what he discovered as he polled the Desert Fathers.


That assumption is that the intention to pray is many times more important than any belief about prayer. The intention is more important than any system of beliefs that arose with the purpose of guiding, delimiting and even at times restraining the intention to pray and its effects.


Some will amend that to say that intention puts belief into action. Others will say that both beliefs and prayer are both usually, non-action. Beliefs that someone is bad or simply unlike us, can lead to action. Wars are an example.

Can a strongly felt intention alone, lead to action?


As with sleep, if one has the intention to pray and puts that into practice, one may discover through personal observation certain results.

Some of these results will be as clear and simple as nails.

If one decides to join in the Challenge, it takes 20 minutes to do so.

If one decides to join in the Challenge each day, it occupies more time still.

These results do not require belief. They are clear and simple as nails.


Other results, both personal results and those taking place in our world, may be less clear and less simple to identify.

Discussions of causality, the logic or illogic of belief, and phrases such as "... a Kierkegaardian leap of faith," will take much more time to elaborate and agree upon, than simply doing the Challenge.

Such discussions may also lead us into murky waters with no promise of either agreement, nor of safe return.


So instead, we simply suggest developing personally a strong intention of participating in the Challenge as a viable response to COVID-19's destructiveness. If you can't or don't want to be on "the front lines" turning COVID-19 patients in bed, do the Challenge instead. But do it as though you were there, holding a feverish person's hand with your own gloved hand.


And as for the results, while feedback to those participating in the Challenge is provided on our site, the keen observer should be you. Bring with you all that lets you look and see, and yes, even doubt.

Observe each day what happens in your life.

Observe each day what happens in our world.

It is unlikely that it will be as direct as what happens when you pull the pin on a grenade and toss it.

Becoming convinced that something is happening here will take a bit more time than with the grenade. 


But the Challenge is certainly a safer source of energy to launch into the air.




If our world could write this day it's own book of Psalms, I fear that most of the songs contained therein would be sad songs.

These would be songs about its abandonment, misuse, overcrowding, violation, squandering, and the anxiety and fears that nothing will ever change to bring it relief.


In some of its Psalms, the world might sing of a promise. A promise that it would always deliver each day what its occupants need to survive. Promises of rains, but not too much. Promises of a fertile soil where good things grow. Promises of temperatures in the air that feel good on our skin. But of course without our help its promises will never be kept.


So in one way, COVID-19 is simply a training ground. It has its obstacles to run around or climb over. But in our world there are, and will follow, more obstacles to surmount.


Doing the Challenge for 20 minutes each day with others is also an exploration during the upcoming months, of the effectiveness of this practice. Applied as a tool to healing Covid 19 in our world may not be the last time it presents to face the Challenge of its effectiveness and show what it can do.


Join with others. At 12 noon Greenwich mean time, each day.


While your presence may be taken by some as a sign of belief, they may be misreading the sign.


What they are actually seeing is compassion in action. Doing for others what they can no longer do for themselves. That is compassionate action. Can you hold a feverish hand at a distance? That is the correct source of your intention for 20 minutes. Expect that its effects may carry throughout your day.


Have the intention to do this. Show that you take it seriously by being on time.


Meet the Challenge.




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