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A Cancer Survivor’s Calling

  “I know what my calling is,” Brenda said. She is a cancer survivor, alive today, she told me, because three women had carried her on their prayers from fear and death to healing and life. She went on . . . I’ll give you an example. I went for a scan, and I’m so…

A Stroke of Enlightening

One morning a blood vessel exploded in Jill Bolte Taylor’s brain. She felt a deep pain—like a head freeze from eating ice cream—behind her left eye. Slowly she watched as her brain functions shut down—speech, cognition, motion. Jill was a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist—a brain scientist, observing a brain undergoing a stroke . . . from the…

Be Not Afraid

“Hurricane Fay to fade, but Gonzalo waits in the wings.” My home page opens to NBC News, and this is the latest headline. If we are disappointed that Fay has faded, it means to say, there is yet more to worry about. Ganzalo waits in the wings. Polls show that Americans are increasingly afraid. We…

The Beauty of Imperfection

The primary cause of mental illness, Karl Menninger said, is the inability of people to forgive themselves for being imperfect. Those words came from Frank Griswold, the former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, preaching at Saint Luke’s this morning. He was speaking of St. Paul, who sought famously to perfect himself through a rigorous…

Never Too Late to Love

“It is never too late to love.” That’s what a good friend told me this week. I was telling her of a kind of break-through: I had learned to love someone a little better, to forgive someone (and pardon myself as well). It felt good, but almost immediately I thought, “I wish I had come…

The Birthday Cigarette

On Sunday the singer-song writer Leonard Cohen turned 80. While his friends and family were lighting the candles on his cake, Mr. Cohen was lighting a cigarette. A year ago he promised that when he turned 80 he would start smoking again after thirty years. Why not? If you’ve made it this far, you can…

Breathing with the Dolphin

“Remember to breathe.” I often say this to people under stress—whether it’s distress or eustress. It’s something I have to tell myself. We don’t have to think to breathe. If we did, we’d fall asleep at night and suffocate in our beds. But like all gifts, autonomic breathing also holds liabilities. We can go months,…

Lessons in Stone

If you want to know what beauty is and how it is created in this life, build a simple stone wall. When I decided to build two low stone walls on either side of the driveway into our home in Pennsylvania, I went in search of stone. I wished for a truck that would drop…

My Many Birthday Selves

Today is my 58th birthday. This morning I received a note from an old friend—someone one month younger than I—who posed the question we all ask as the years mount: What am I doing in this old person’s body? I still feel like the person who played the sax in the marching band, the person…

Raids on the Unspeakable

One of the gifts of vacation is to change up one’s prayer ritual. Normally, Pam and I sit for prayer in a corner of our bedroom. There are two chairs, a small table for an oil lamp, a few sacred books, and a timer that sounds a Tibetan prayer bell when our orison is over….

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