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A Season of Mystery: Spiritual Practices for the Second Half of Life

I am studying a photo of my mom in Barcelona, a picture taken twenty-five years ago; in it she is the age I am now. A slim brunette sitting in the shadows of a Moorish hotel garden beside my handsome dad, she could be thirty-five, forty, or even a young fifty, but surely not what she actually is: about to begin her seventh decade. She has never been to Spain before, they are here to celebrate their anniversary, and there is no hint on her calm and happy face that within four years of this culminating moment she will be a widow, and that life will have changed forever.

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Listen to My Life: The Wisdom of Recognizing and Responding to God in My Story

“Go stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for directions to the old road. The tried-and-true road. Then take it. Discover the right route for your should.” -Jeremiah 6:16 (The Message)

I arrived at this particular life crossroads after an exhausting three-year run that included a challenging “hair-on-fire” job while parenting a preschooler. I loved the purpose behind the work and the people, but the way I went about engaging in it left me depleted. In leading, I had isolated myself. Professionalism, discretion, and pride led me to that lonely place where busyness was worn as a badge of honor and spirituality was reduced to looking to God for marching orders. My soul had not been well tended, and it was evident to the people around me. This particular situation was not familiar to me, but I thought I knew what to do at a life crossroads. I had the benefit of experience that comes with some age, and I hoped that it would qualify as wisdom.

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The Journey from Innocence to Character

As with many new mothers whose bodies have gone south on them, swimsuit shopping can be a nightmare. In a dressing room that makes a phone booth seem like the Biltmore, I squished two young children, myself, and all their circus gear. I chose a conservative one-piece, black and fully functional. The girls were still and focused, no escapees this day. After the sheer miraculous act of getting in the suit, I stood looking in the mirror, uncertain of the outcome.

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O Taste and See: Meditations on Shoshannah Brombacher’s Yaakov Blessing Ephraim and Menasheh

It doesn’t go without saying that age confers wisdom; from King Lear to Captain Ahab, literature offers
us images of old men who make colossal and foolish mistakes. “Do not let me hear of the wisdom of
old men,” T. S. Eliot writes, “but rather of their folly.” His reminder not to sentimentalize the archetype of the wise elder, or to reduce it to cliché, reiterates an ancient truth: that wisdom and folly often look strangely alike. Joseph’s effort to correct Jacob as he reaches to confer his blessing on the younger grandson is the kind of intervention any of us might attempt when we witness the momentary confusion of an old person whose vision or memory or clarity of mind is unreliable. We redirect them. We lead them back into the safe bounds of propriety, trying to cover over their unruly and wayward behaviors. We give them diagnostic labels that sometimes serve only to relieve us of the more subtle and arduous effort to interpret the logic of the dreams they inhabit. Certainly clinical evidence attests to the literal, tragic loss of brain function that afflicts many elders. But it behooves us, if only to err on the side of dignity, to honor the humanity and inquire into the hopes that underlie their foolish mistakes. Some of them speak more than they know. Some of them know things that cannot be contained within the limits of convention.

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Growing Older: Struggling with Doubt, Alive in Community, Moving Toward Wisdom

Years ago, noted behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner, then in his eighties, presented a speech at the American Psychological Association’s annual conference titled “Growing Old Gracefully as a Psychologist.” Skinner’s understanding of the human condition, reflected clearly in his remarks, revolved around two assumptions: the empty box and control by reinforcers.

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Journey Into Joy: Celebrating the Wisdom of Dallas Willard

The question began a journey into joy. Dallas had asked me to comment on The Divine Conspiracy as he wrote it. Every few months there would be a newly finished chapter in the mailbox. The explosive themes of the first two chapters- the invitation of Jesus to experience external living right now, the integration of our little kingdoms with the big kingdom of God, the limitations of the gospels of sin management- challenged me deeply. But the opening theme of the third chapter did not. It evoked tremendous resistance.

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The Blessings of the Bitter

A few weeks ago, my husband attended a workshop on Scottish food and drink. It was a recreational class, and he went to enjoy new cuisine and learn a little more about the culinary history of the Scots (for example, how in the world did haggis come about?). After an afternoon of learning about the geography and its effects on the various products that come out of Scotland, the instructor said something fascinating: “Our palates don’t fully develop the ability to appreciate a range of bitterness until we’re in our late thirties or early forties.”

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Contemplative Prayer for Everyone

As I began to contemplate (verb chosen deliberately) the writing of this article, I did what any alert 21-century seeker would do: I went online. Sure enough, my article has already been written many times, both tersely and expansively, eloquently and no so eloquently, and almost exclusively under the rubric “Centering Prayer.” As I browsed among the offerings unfurled upon my screen, it became clear to me that more than enough has already been written about method and that I was drawn to something deeper.

So after the Web, I turned to my faithful Webster’s. The very words contemplative and contemplate have mystery at their heart: in ancient times the templum (temple) was the space where soothsayers practiced divination, seeking signs and omens. There is something uncanny here, a suggestion of otherworldliness, a sacred precinct set apart in the busy marketplace for a different kind of study and knowing.

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Letters to the Editor: Dear Reader

We attempted something different for Join the Conversation this time—we wanted to hear your input on the topic for this issue, to be included in this issue. Typically, reader feedback is an issue or two behind schedule due to the nature of publication and our “letter to the editor” style for this feature. This time, we reached out to you via Continuing the Conversation, our quarterly e-newsletter (which is a response to your request for more of the things you like from the print journal), to ask you how you respond to God’s repeated invitations away from fear and toward him.

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Front Page: Lessons From A Snake

When lovelessness is present, we become wounded. Woundedness can give rise to the two basic forms of evil
in relations to others—assault and withdrawal.

— Dallas Willard

Fear and love are the warp and woof of the universe; opposites—both physiologically and spiritually. Neither can be fully alive in the presence of the other; emotional oil and water.

I learned some of this from two encounters with snakes.

Have you ever met a snake—so close you could see the black in its eyes?

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