You have the flu? How did you get it?” The simple medical answer is, “I was attacked by a flu virus.” Ah yes, but what did you do that gave the virus the opportunity to attack you? There is always a way to wring at least a little blame and guilt out of an illness. Perhaps you haven’t been eating well, taking the right vitamin supplements, keeping your stress level down, or simply avoiding others who have the flu.

It’s easy to extend the list of possible missteps in a spiritual direction: You’re sick? You must have done something to separate yourself from God, spirit, good karma, or the life-sustaining force of the universe and now you’re paying the price. The link between misconduct and medical consequence is built into the very language we speak; words such as “blind” and “sick” not only describe...

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