Duke University professor Kate Bowler spoke at the University of Richmond on her new understanding of life as she grappled with her faith after a stage-four cancer diagnosis.
The Office of the Chaplaincy hosted Bowler on Feb. 3 for its Sylvester Spirituality Series. Her lecture, “No Cure for Being Human: Resilient Faith for Tough Times,” discussed living life with a chronic condition and her struggle in accepting the belief that all tragedies are a personal test of character.
Bowler’s life changed drastically the day she found out she had cancer. She found a new perspective on topics, such as the American dream and the common cliche “#blessed” that are typically used as life motivation on social media.
“We have drunk too deeply from the waters of our modern cell phone culture,” Bowler said.
After her diagnosis, Bowler no longer needed reasons for all of the challenges of life — she decided to live by embracing the beauty of life despite dark times, she said.
Tickets for the in-person event were sold out. About 350 people sat in Cannon Memorial Chapel listening to the speech, with over 600 more listeners on the live stream.
Rev. John Jenkins, a priest at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, came to hear Bowler speak.
“I am always interested in the fresh expressions of healthy theology and well-reasoned thought,” he said.
When asked what he would take away from Bowler’s speech the most, Jenkins said, “Honestly, the beauty of her humor and midwifing truth.”
A question and answer session followed the 45-minute lecture, led by senior Ally Osterberg.
“How can one trust one’s body after the betrayal of a cancer diagnosis?” Osterberg asked.
Bowler expressed gratitude for social workers, chaplains and mental health professionals for helping her through her post-surgical trauma. She thought since she had processed the cancer scans that she would not experience burdensome post-surgery trauma, she said. However, Bowler found it much more difficult than expected, explaining in her speech that she had previously believed in the notion of our minds as mental machines.
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Bowler is the New York Times best-selling author of “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved.” She has written five books on topics such as American prosperity gospel and self-help culture. Her podcast, “Everything Happens
For a Reason,” currently has 99 episodes and over 3,000 reviews on Apple Podcasts.
Rachel Beanland, a published writer in the Richmond area, read Bowler’s book and was eager to buy a ticket to come to hear her speak.
“It was just what I needed at this time coming out of the pandemic,” Beanland said.
Bowler presented a TED Talk in December 2018 about how to make sense of your life after sudden changes, which garnered over seven million views.
“I am learning to live, and to love, without counting the cost — without reasons and assurances that nothing will be lost,” she said in the TED Talk. Since her diagnosis, Bowler is doing well and is hopeful for a long future with her husband and son, she said.
Contact contributor Jenna Lapp at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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