Is that the voice of God you hear?

Not an insignificant number of Catholics like to claim that The New York Times is anti-Catholic in its reporting and editorializing. Such claims are often accompanied by a fundraising pitch of one kind or another. I don't view the Times as anti-Catholic. On Wednesday, the National Day of Prayer, the Times had an interesting perspective on prayer.

In Wednesday's opinion section of the paper, T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford and the author of When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God, wrote an interesting essay on prayer and describes how some prayerful people actually hear God with their ears speaking to them. He compares the experiences of congregants hearing God to the kinds of things people suffering from schizophrenia -- or a radical break from reality -- hear. Luhrmann rules out schizophrenia as the source of the heard statements.

Luhrmann concludes:

Help fund independent Catholic journalism.
Donate now.

The more interesting lesson is what it tells us about the mind and prayer. If hearing a voice is associated with focused attention to the inner senses -- hearing with the mind's ear, seeing with the mind's eye -- it suggests that prayer (which today, the National Day of Prayer, celebrates) is a pretty powerful instrument. We often imagine prayer as a practice that affects the content of what we think about -- our moral aspirations, or our contrition. It's probably more accurate to understand prayer as a skill that changes how we use our minds.

Support independent reporting on important issues.

 One family graphic_2016_250x103.jpg

Show comments

NCR Comment code: (Comments can be found below)

Before you can post a comment, you must verify your email address at
Comments from unverified email addresses will be deleted.

  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the original idea will be deleted. NCR reserves the right to close comment threads when discussions are no longer productive.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report abuse" button. Once a comment has been flagged, an NCR staff member will investigate.

For more detailed guidelines, visit our User Guidelines page.

For help on how to post a comment, visit our reference page.

Commenting is available during business hours, Central time, USA. Commenting is not available in the evenings, over weekends and on holidays. More details are available here. Comments are open on NCR's Facebook page.