Updated: Mar 2
Prayer and meditation are intrinsically linked. Let’s put William, a devout Christian, and Oliver, a mindful meditator, in the same room for a while to conduct their daily rituals. William kneels on the floor, positions himself in as comfortable a position as possible, closes his eyes and then peacefully petitions his dear Lord for a placid and loving existence. He concentrates on the love he believes he is receiving from his God and correspondingly encompasses loving grace in return.
Oliver, likewise, places himself cross legged comfortably on the floor, fixes his gaze on a small mark on the wall in front of him and slowly takes a deep breath in, whist envisaging an abundance of love, in all shapes, sizes and colours, entering into his body and circulating itself throughout it. On his out breath, with his gaze still fixed on the small mark directly in front of him, he populates the room with peace, love and tranquillity, at the same time freeing his mind of any obtrusive thoughts and observing and accepting the present moment he finds himself in. He continues the same routine with each in and out breath, numbering them from one to ten and then back to the start again.
At the end of the session, both William and Oliver recall similar transcendental experiences and leave feeling fulfilled with love and peace.
Although the intended focus of rituals were completely different, they mindfully managed to nurture and nourish a fond love for themselves through their individualized regimes. You may believe your meditative mind has the power to cultivate the wonderment of love and peace in your life. You may believe the God to which you have devoted your life has the power to reciprocate the same thing. Either way, if you entrust enough faith and assurance of it happening, it will.
Deepak Chopra has written an insightful book called Is God an Illusion? questioning the plausibility and existence of spirituality vs science. In the book, he says that ‘spirituality provides a way to know yourself beyond the personal, which is enlightenment’. His adversary and co-author of the book, Leonard Mlodinow, the scientist and staunch atheist of the argument, holds a very black and white viewpoint on the whole debate, steadfastly refusing to believe in the existence of anything that can’t be scientifically substantiated. Yet, miracles that can’t be explained by any scientific means happen all the time. I might not be a God squad adversary any more, and I may well have stepped away from organized religion, but spirituality is a completely different kettle of fish.
When it comes to miracles, every religion has a selection of unquantifiable stories that depict scientifically unprovable circumstances that have actually taken place. You just need to Google them to read a few of the fascinating stories. I’m sure some may have been fabricated, but the by and large of them are trusted by the reputable clergy. But how do we define a miracle? In physical health, for example, the Miracle Commission of the Catholic Church will only acknowledge a cure for an illness as miraculous if it is ‘spontaneous, instantaneous and completely healed’. There also has to be absolutely no natural explanation for its occurrence and the patient needs to have been told beforehand that there is absolutely no way they will survive.
Sticking with the Catholic Church, before an individual can be canonized after their death, their life must first be thoroughly investigated and deemed virtuous enough. There then has to be conclusive proof of two miracles attributed to them before they can be given a sainthood. Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, has recently been canonized after two individuals prayed to him and were miraculously completely healed of an illness that was expected to kill them.
I read an incredible story a few years ago about a man who lived up in some mountains and had to drive exactly the same route to work every single day, along very windy and precarious roads. On one occasion, although he had never done so before, he suddenly felt the urge to stop in a lay-by. Upon bringing his car to a standstill, after questioning why he had just done something so unnecessary, just before he decided to set off again he noticed a lorry on the opposite side of the road, swerve erratically. It ploughed into the corner of the junction, exactly where the man would have been had he not suddenly decided to stop the car for a few seconds.
I'm not saying this was a miracle and I’m not saying it had anything to do with any particular God, because as far as I recall he was an atheist. But why did he randomly feel the urge stop on a route along which he travelled every single day? What prompted him to make such an unusual decision – and one that potentially saved his life? Strange occurrences, although maybe without such potentially dramatic outcomes, happen all the time. How many times have you been thinking about someone you haven’t spoken to for a while and then they suddenly call you? Maybe you’re thinking about your favourite old song, when you turn on the radio and find it playing. Even though you’re not looking, why is it you somehow know when someone else is looking at you? These coincidences and apparently inexplicable situations occur all the time, yet we have all become so accustomed to them, we shrug them off as just something that happens, without giving it a second thought.
The fact that some people have such devout faith and belief in a cure for whatever their plight, and to then go on and receive it, must set a few alarm bells ringing for the non-believers. It happens within every religion. But everybody has the power to perform unprecedented acts of wonder within themselves, if they truly believe that whoever or whatever they believe in has the power to incite it. Just because the results of a miracle cure are unquantifiable and unexplainable, that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, but it does mean that the individual in question had enough faith and belief in whoever or whatever they prayed to, to make it happen.
However you look at it, religion as we know it is a man-made institution. Some may have been around for many thousands of years but the first and last word of all scripture was written by a human being. The comedian Ricky Gervais, a very stubborn and devout atheist, hypothesises that if our planet was completely wiped out by fire, ridding the world of absolutely everything known to man, and if it then somehow regenerated itself over many millions of years there would still be countless religions and beliefs that are created by whichever intelligent species now exists which have nothing to do with the many religions of today but are still as depended upon and believed as today's religions are. Science, capable of explaining many of the worldly mysteries of years gone by, is a relatively recent introduction, compared with the postulations of respected scholars back in the time of Jesus.
Take a solar eclipse, for example. As such an irregular occurrence, you can only imagine the anxiety and fear that would have consumed witnesses in the year dot, when the sun momentarily stopped shining and our ancestors had no idea why it happened. If you’d been brought up to believe that there is a God and a devil at war with each other, it’s highly likely you’d see the eclipse as a manifestation of their battle. In fact, even today, some cultures still see these events as a bad omen, Hindu mythology being one of them, equating the blackout with Rahu swallowing the sun. Consider the depth of understanding today’s doctors now have. If somebody suffered an epileptic fit back in 10AD, it wouldn’t surprise me if they’d been snubbed or worse by society, even though there was a plausible medical reason, which nobody understood. That said, there is so much happening even today that can’t be justified by science (but may well be in the future) and yet fanatics claim it as a religious feat.
Until we are old enough to think and choose for ourselves, religion is often thrust upon us. With each religion comes a set of honourable morals to adhere to, providing justification for instilling a given religion in the minds of the young, to be continued into adulthood. I was brought up a Christian by my parents and I think that overall it probably made me into a much more grounded person.Perhaps it was only the manner and my impressionable age, when I was subjected to the teachings at the Christian camps, that led my life down a slightly more bumpy road. The point is, perhaps, that it’s not what is taught but how we teach it that is the problem, and at what age. As you’re probably beginning to see, there are many ways of explaining miracles and it is not what happens but how we learn from it, pass it on, and respond to it that is important.
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