Herb Benham

Herb Benham

The Bakersfield Californian

A friend emailed. Friends don’t normally write headlines on their emails, but this one fit.

“Miracles and the Power of Prayer”

“Immediately following my lymphoma diagnosis, my name appeared on Chris’s morning prayers list. My colleagues across Nicaragua offered prayers for my recovery. A group of Friends at Westtown Monthly Meeting initiated sessions in which I was being held in the light.”

Alan Wright was a friend from college. He seemed grown up when most of us were not. He worked, we frolicked. Alan started a used bookstore in West Philly either during college or before the ink was dry on his diploma. The Wooden Nickel became a hangout for people who were thinking about things and people who were doing their best not to.

“I have been reflecting on prayers and miracles, the first being that loving friends and family from New Haven, Nashville, Napa, Richmond, Westtown, Boston, France, Mexico and Nicaragua are holding me in the light, meditating on my health and praying for my recovery.

“The fact that so many people care what happens to me is, to me, a miracle.”

After getting a doctorate in philosophy from Yale, Alan could have made a pile of money. He was smart enough to do it, but chose to make the world a better place, a quaint sounding idea that becomes less so because of its sheer difficulty.

Through his foundation, SosteNica, Alan has spent 30 years helping poor Nicaraguans make a living. The foundation has financed small farms and instructed farmers how to farm responsibly. When you read about the work SosteNica does, phrases like “micro-credits,” “bio-intensive,” “agroecology” and “food forestry” pop up like field mushrooms after a spring rain.

“Albert Einstein said there are only two ways to live your life,” Alan wrote. “One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Knowing Alan and the way he has lived his life, there was only way to go, one thing to believe.

“The unfolding of this marvelous Universe is miraculous as is everything that happens including prayer and its outcome.”

True religion, Alan believes, is Einstein’s idea that although we may live as if our thoughts and feelings are separate from the rest of humanity because we’re so darn cool and interesting, our goal should be to embrace that we may not be, and with that concession, we become connected. Linked, as if we were a picket fence that goes on forever, to each other, to the universe and everything in it.

“A few weeks ago, my colleague Kevin visited and we talked about the efficacy of prayer,” Alan wrote. “Then Melissa, a former student, came to check on me. We ended with an ad hoc prayer vigil which included the spontaneous laying on of hands. It felt natural and healing.”

Alan concluded by saying it would be hard to separate the role played by prayer, chemotherapy, qi gong and dandelion root tea in his healing process. Like most of us, he’ll take it where he can get it.

“Regardless of the science, I’m choosing to live the rest of my life as though everything is a miracle.”

The day after Alan’s email, we were watching the TV show “This is Us.” Talk about a miracle of network television. Kevin, one of the characters who plays an actor, explains his thoughts about life and death to his two young nieces, by showing them a painting he has done.

Kevin says that maybe life doesn’t end at death or begin at birth but that we’re in the same painting everywhere and at all once. Just because we die doesn’t mean we disappear from the canvas.

Alan is a painter. His masterpiece has been his life, his effort and his unflinching sacrifice. Surely those colors will not dim.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.

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