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Bridging the gap between prayer and practice

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Today culminates the Celebration of Healing to commemorate the 80th anniversary of ORU founder Oral Roberts being healed from tuberculosis. Dr. Candy Gunther Brown presented on the topics of medical documentation and the challenges of alternative and integral medicine, expressing that medicine and Christian faith are not in conflict.

Brown is currently a professor of religious studies at Indiana University. She received her bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. from Harvard University and has authored several books on science, healing and prayer.

Brown spoke during the academic portion of the conference Monday and Tuesday. She addressed two focuses of her expertise, the first of which includes the history of relationship between Christian prayer practices and medicine.

“Over time there has been some efforts to show that prayer benefits health,” Brown said. “Medicine and prayer don’t have to be in conflict.”

According to Brown, a gap has been bridged between Christian prayer and practices. Taking a look at the medical side of Christianity, Brown collects before-and-after medical records to further develop her research of healing in Christianity. This allows her to explain the values and limitations of using medical science for a lens of what really happens when people pray for healing.

“Christians navigate this whole new world of complete or integral medicine,” Brown said, speaking of the various avenues of spiritual exploration.

She explains this is due to a misunderstanding.

“Sometimes there are ideas of spiritual energy rooted in different religions like Buddhism and Hinduism,” Brown said.

Through her studies, Brown has recognized mindfulness, meditation and yoga as facets of spiritual energy that have become challenges for Christians.

When it comes to the health and awareness of younger generations, Brown believes that age has no limit on education.

“A lot of times, people in college may assume, [but] it really isn’t something you can put on the back shelf,” Brown said. “There are a lot of college students already suffering. Just to be alive in our culture at whatever age, it is important to be able to navigate what works and why is it that various treatments work. It’s never too soon to ask this question.”

Brown believes that it is imperative for young Christians to develop a sense of understanding through asking questions about the implications of what is being experimented and how it will affect their religion.

She explains that fully understanding the implications of something such as yoga and thinking that relabeling it as “Christian” has not taken away from its original root of practice and purpose. Yoga in particular has become an acceptable trend even for Christians.

“What does it mean to Christianize yoga? Is it enough to re-label it Christian? Protestants tend to think it’s what we believe and what we say and confess with your mouth. It’s what you do with your body that puts you in direct contact with the sacred or divine. It’s not a practice of physical fitness but with your mind,” Brown said.

Brown ultimately believes the health of all people, whether or not they are Christian, can be established through understanding the spirit of what activity is being practiced.

“The starting point is to really understand cultural associations of a practice. Is there something religious here?” Brown said. “What would it look like to remove the religion? Or is it just acceptable to eat healthy and exercise without taking on the trendy fad of the time?”

Brown has authored several books on healing and medicine. Her most recent are “Testing Prayer: Science and Healing” and “The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America.”

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