Q: We learn in Christian Science not to specifically pray for someone unless they have asked for it, while we also learn how we can change our thought about a person who has not asked for prayer, without actually giving them a treatment. What is the right thing to do when we read online posts from friends that describe an unfortunate situation and ask for prayer? Does Christian Science treatment for the person or their family cross the line of what is ethical in response to such a plea for prayer? —A reader in Godfrey, Illinois, US
A: For me, this question is critical to my practice of Christian Science, since I also volunteer as a nondenominational chaplain in hospitals and for hospice organizations, and am active in a number of online spirituality and healing forums, where the lines between prayer and treatment are not always clearly drawn.
When someone or something asks me to pray—whether it is a friend making a general plea for prayers on Facebook, a family I meet while visiting someone who is in need of pastoral care in a hospital, or an alarming news report—I think of it as an invitation to stop, seek out, and focus on the presence of God, and refuse to be distracted. In other words, in any situation where there is a suggestion that God is absent—whether it is the absence of peace presenting itself as pain or chaos, the absence of health presenting itself as disease or joblessness, or the absence of love suggesting itself as violence, hatred, or lack—I can always, right in that very moment, behold the presence of God. And I can rejoice in the evidence I see of God’s goodness, in the kindness of a nurse, the compassion of a loved one, the desire for honesty, the hunger for grace.