Giving Prayers, One by One by One

Somewhere at the bottom of my purse is a small drawstring bag that holds something precious: a number of small pewter hearts. These little charms — part of Mexican folk religion — are called milagros, the Spanish word for miracles. Each milagro represents a particular prayer, and much like our own prayers, milagros come in all shapes and sizes. For example, if your abuelito (grandpa) is lame, you might get a milagro in the shape of a leg or a crutch. A cow-shaped charm might symbolize someone’s prayer that a beloved milk cow recover from illness. A heart-shaped milagro suggests a prayer for the heart, either literally or figuratively — it might represent a prayer for someone recovering from a heart attack, or perhaps a prayer that a relationship be repaired or that an unmarried child find a spouse.As someone who is intrigued by meaning and metaphor, the heart shape offers me many possibilities. For a friend who had lost his father, the milagro became a prayer of consolation. For a crying teenager, it was a reminder that she was truly loved. For the stranger confiding in me during a plane trip, it was a …

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