“Login to request a prayer.”
If anything encapsulates the melding of ancient healing traditions and 21st-century sensibilities, that clickable phrase on Las Vegas-based interfaith affirmation website PrayerSpark might be it.
Congregations pray for the sick. Communities pray for victims. Greeting cards wish recipients speedy recoveries. And the digital age has given us religious sites and apps featuring downloadable masses and daily prayers, blessings on demand—you name it. When all is upside-down, physically, emotionally or mentally, we pray. Right? It’s what we’ve always done.
And then what? Depends who you ask. Intercessory prayer research, including Duke Medicine’s famous MANTRA project that focused on heart patients, has yielded results mostly unsupportive of the medicinal power of prayer. But these studies—broken into approaches including strangers praying, peers praying, nobody praying or spiritual leaders praying—showed some evidence of therapeutic effect ranging from patient stress levels to rates of return to the hospital.
PrayerSpark founder and CEO Michael Feder references these findings often. A Las Vegas resident who traveled the world researching spirituality, Feder was called on to work with Isaac Tigrett (co-founder of Hard Rock Cafe and House of Blues) to develop the Spirit Channel, a venue dedicated to religion. He hadn’t thought about studies on noetic healing for years, but when Nelson Mandela’s family asked people to pray for the ailing icon, Feder recalled MANTRA and thought, what if?
“I wanted to create a system where I could deliver third-party prayer,” Feder says. “If you have a heart valve tear or a broken leg, you need a surgeon. Prayer works in depression, stress, pain management. PrayerSpark can turn on the power of the mind to help heal.”
In creating PrayerSpark, Feder was also interested in those who didn’t identify with organized religion. Working with a small team, he rounded up spiritual leaders from various beliefs and launched the interfaith affirmation company that allows users to request prayers and blessings.
The blessings themselves are free, but if a user wants a chosen “Spiritual Leader” to send the blessing digitally, there’s a 99-cent charge, a fee that the company says will ultimately become an optional donation when the it launches its 2.0 version of PrayerSpark. Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Native American and Australian Aboriginal spirituality are among the options. There’s even a Wiccan reverend. More than 80 percent of prayer fees go to the spiritual leaders, including sales of greeting cards, flowers and other vectors for their blessings. Feder says the vetting process sought leaders who were generally interfaith, LGBTQ-friendly and personally involved with a charity.
Tigrett, who lives in an ashram in India and is PrayerSpark’s brand ambassador, said by email: “At such a transition point into global, mobile connectivity ... PrayerSpark is a long overdue gift to the social network’s library.” He describes it as a gathering of global leaders dedicated to selfless service and love, “whose mission is to help us in our struggle to deal with the collective social, moral and spiritual afflictions arising out of the 21st century.”
Feder says he's taken no income from the project in the two years he's been developing it and adds that the for-profit business is in beta. Thousands have used it since its January launch, he says, with more than 3,300 sessions and 2,945 users in the past week. PrayerSpark has more than 46,000 Facebook followers.
In addition to designing a new website, PrayerSpark—which includes Las Vegas radiologist Dr. Daniel Saurborn as its chief wellness officer and COO—is building a wellness app for addiction and recovery, partnering with local drug and alcohol treatment program Solutions Recovery, Inc. Its Indiegogo campaign has raised more than $3,000 of its $25,000 goal for the business-to-business app. The aim is to reduce the 92 percent relapse rate by providing a digital support system, along with virtual tokens for sobriety. “We will be tracking efficacy of our apps. First up, watching the reduction in relapse rate in addiction,” Feder says.
In addition to its own mission, this new product could draw more users to PrayerSpark. Though paying for prayers might launch red flags for some, others might argue it’s not that different from tithing, televangelist healing, Scientology treatments or even psychic readings. And the bulk of humanity on every continent calls upon prayer, blessings and affirmations for improvement and rehabilitation. When asked whether users must believe prayer works for it to be effective, Feder says, “not necessarily,” pointing out that Buddhists and other denominations don’t pray to a deity. “Just knowing that someone you respect and admire is thinking about you helps.”