What happened when Albert Einstein and William Randolph Hearst prayed?

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By Eric Nelson | norcalcs.org | Twitter

LOS ALTOS, Calif., February 10, 2014 — In 1936, Albert Einstein received a letter from a sixth-grade girl asking him if he prayed. His answer, although perhaps not as direct as it could have been, provides a compelling if unintentional definition of the word “prayer.”

“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe,” he replied, “one that is vastly superior to that of man. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is surely quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.”

Reading between the lines, prayer in Einstein’s terms might be interpreted as a kind of exploration resulting in a fundamentally different view of the universe and our place in it. It may also be true that this view – although mysterious and confusing at times – is, for many, inspiring, uplifting, even healing.

Although we may never know if he ever prayed in the conventional sense of the word, there can be no question as to Einstein’s desire to explore rather than ignore that “spirit” he saw reflected in the world around him, providing him with “a religious feeling of a special sort.”

About this same time, William Randolph Hearst found himself engaged in a more urgent exploration.

His young son, William, Jr., was born with a closed pylorus. As Hearst describes it in his “In The News” column from July 17, 1941, “The best doctors were called in … The long days went by. The child, without an atom of nourishment, wasted away to an actual skeleton. The doctors did all in their power, but without the slightest result.”

It was then that a good friend of Hearst’s recommended that he engage a Christian Science practitioner who had healed her own child of double pneumonia. Although not a Christian Scientist himself, Hearst “turned in desperation” to what he describes as “this gleam of hope shining dimly … in the utter darkness.”

All night long the practitioner sat by the child’s bedside and prayed.

By the next morning, the obstruction was gone and the child began to recover, eventually becoming a 6-foot tall, 180-pound editor of one of Hearst’s newspapers.

Fast forward to just this past week and we find WebMD reporting that research related to the power of prayer nearly doubled in the past 10 years. According to Mitchell Krucoff, a cardiovascular specialist at Duke University, “All of these studies, all the reports, are remarkably consistent in suggesting the potential measurable health benefit associated with prayer or spiritual interventions.”

Does this mean we can expect an exponential increase in the number of people who are choosing to rely on prayer in lieu of conventional medicine for their health? Probably not. It does seem to indicate, however, that there are an increasing number of people who, like Einstein and Hearst, have a sincere desire to explore rather than ignore largely unexplored and underappreciated aspects of the human experience, not the least of which is the relationship between prayer and healing.

Might this exploration lead to “a religious feeling of a special sort,” maybe even the broader application of non drug-based remedies? Without a doubt. More importantly, we may find ourselves beginning to share our own stories of discovery and healing with those who are curious to know if and what happens when we pray.

Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs

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