The power of prayer

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Baby boomers have a lot of memories in common.

For one thing, I clearly recall Wednesday morning devotions at Germantown Elementary School. Area ministers would rotate the responsibility. In an average month, we would hear from four different ministers. The devotions didn’t last long; just a few minutes. There would be a short reading, usually from the New Testament. This was followed by a few minutes of explanation. The devotion always ended with a short prayer.

In the early 1960s, the United States Supreme Court decided that prayer in publicly supported schools violated the First Amendment. According to the court, that morning prayer represented mandatory religious participation in a public funded school. In 1963, the supreme court decided that reading the Bible in public schools also violated the First Amendment for the same reason.

The First Amendment simply states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The court interpreted the First Amendment to mean that government (including any public school) could not require students to participate in a religious program. Participating (or free exercise) was interpreted to include just sitting at your desk and listening to a Bible reading and prayer.

As a result, devotions, prayer and Bible reading were banned in all public schools. I doubt that the Supreme Court ruling kept all high school students from praying. I remember whispering a prayer before a chemistry exam.

For many people, prayer is an important part of every day. They feel closer to God when they pray. They feel that God listens and responds to every prayer.

On the other hand, many people don’t believe that prayer does anything. When I worked in healthcare, I heard many prayers. A lot of prayers came from families. In difficult times, members of the hospital staff could also be heard quietly asking for God’s intervention.

Hospitals throughout the nation, participate with their local emergency management leaders in annual disaster drills. During a full-scale disaster drill, EMTs bring in “patients” who wear plastic molds and make up to simulate horrible injuries. These fake-patients are also told how to act, what symptoms to exhibit and how much pain they should have.

When a hospital emergency room is inundated with these “fake-patients” during a simulated disaster, anything can happen. Even simulated prayers can be answered.

I was a fledgling respiratory therapist in the early 1970s. My assignment for the day was the emergency department. We knew a disaster drill was scheduled, but they wouldn’t tell us what to expect.

The call came in to the ER just before lunch. Emergency management officials were going to simulate a major tornado striking the south side of Dayton. We were told to expect up to a hundred patients. They were also going to bring in some uninjured “actors” to portray distraught family members.

Patients were transported by life squads and school buses. Within minutes, the ER was swamped with fake-patients, frantic relatives and people who had witnessed their homes and families being swept away by the fake-tornado.

One young lady should have been nominated for an Academy Award for acting — or over-acting.

Her story was that she and her family had sheltered in their home from the storm. The roof was blown off the house and she saw her husband and children sucked out of her home and into the storm. She barely survived, but she was uninjured — except for the fake-emotional trauma.

She was inconsolable. She wept. She fainted. She would reawaken and scream more. She thrashed. She was hysterical. It took more people to care for her than it did for the other fake-injured victims.

A young hospital chaplain came down to the ER. He asked the charge-nurse what was needed and she immediately sent him to stay with the hysterical lady. I was working on a patient right beside her ER cart, so I had a ringside view of everything that was happening. In a way, it was incredibly sad. In a way, it was comical.

The young chaplain stopped at the foot of her bed and drank in the drama and trauma that surrounded this hysterical young lady. He loudly proclaimed that he was going pray. He spread his arms; raised his eyes to the heavens and loudly prayed, “Our Father who art in heaven … for the next 60 seconds we will be testing our emergency broadcast system. This is a test and a test only.” Suddenly, laughter filled the ER.

His prayer was perfect. It worked. The tension was broken. The hysterical lady stopped screaming and started laughing. It was the perfect prayer for the moment.

Almost every day, I pray for wisdom and strength. For me. That’s the perfect prayer.

What more could we ask for?

Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist