Appearance of a Guardian Angel

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on December 25, 2008

I will admit that it is not really possible to “prove” or “disprove” the appearance of angels in the world today. The appearance of supernatural beings is really beyond the realm of scientific proof and measurement. However, that being said, you might also find this to be an inspirational story about the appearance of a guardian angel.

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The power of the president in the United States to pardon criminals of their crimes is absolute and cannot be reviewed by any other part of the government (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2, Clause 1). The original intent of this power was evidently two-fold: (1) it allowed a president to bring peace and order back to the nation after a period of rebellion or unrest (this occurred after the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s and after the Civil War in 1865) and (2) it provided for a ad-hoc appeals process in a time before the appellate court system was fully established in the U.S. In spite of this original plan, the pardon power as specified in the U.S. Constitution is absolute and has no strings attached to a president’s authority to use this power.

The pardon power may be applied to people currently serving sentences in prison. In this case, an inmate may have his or her sentence reduced or may be set free immediately. However, usually, the pardon power is used to restore the rights of citizenship to people who have already completed their prison terms.

By custom, presidents use their power to pardon on Christmas Eve (December 24) or during their final days in office. This past Christmas Eve (2008), President Bush evidently pardoned one man by mistake. The exact reason why a mistaken pardon was signed by the president is not clear, nor is it clear that such an event has ever occurred in the entire history of the nation.

However, because the official pardon papers had not yet been delivered by hand to the recipient of the presidential act of forgiveness, the pardon was not yet legal and so the president could legally withdraw and cancel out the pardon.

And so it is in the spiritual life. The intent to give and the matching intent to receive a gift is not enough for a gift to be legitimate. A gift must actually be exchanged from the donor to the recipient for it to be real.

An opportunity from heaven should be assumed to be a limited-time offer. God may want to give something to you and you may want to receive it, but until you actually take hold of it, then that divine gift is not actually yours. Like the man who told Jesus to allow him to go bury his father first before fully committing himself to follow Jesus, there was a clear invitation from Jesus and a desire for that man to follow after him. Yet this man apparently allowed this special limited chance to expire.

And so each of us might do the same on our spiritual journeys if we are not careful. Unlike the president’s mistaken pardon, God does not make mistakes. But God does insist that we take hold of the gifts that he assigns to us while the time is right for us to receive them.

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Born the King of Angels

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on

Many things must be unlearned if one is to fully experience the subtle majesty of the stories of the gospels. For people such as ourselves, Westerners living in the post-Enlightenment era, a mode of life and thinking that is now foreign to us was fully accepted during the time of the ancients. For example, a belief in supernatural beings like gods, goddesses, angels, and demons was considered normal during the life and times of Jesus and his disciples.

When the Midaeval missionaries first encountered the tribes of northern and eastern Europe, the chief question that each of the tribal leaders had for them was this: “Is your god stronger than our gods?” Their questions were not: “Does God exist?”, “Does God care about us?”, or “Why should I care about God?” Rather, the tribes assumed that the Christian evangelists had a god and were representing him.

Stepping back further in time, look closely at the state of mind of Pontius Pilate in regards to the trial of Jesus. Pilate, the historical record tells us, was a man who did not flinch from dispensing tough justice, even to the point of mass executions. Because of this, modern scholars are puzzled by Pilate’s hesitancy to dispatch Jesus to his death (although he ultimately did just that). Yet to a pre-modern leader like Pilate, the possibility that Jesus might be divine led to a caution to dispense justice. Pilate took the dream of his wife seriously, at least seriously enough to pause before issuing the death warrant. The divinity of Jesus, in the ancient Greco-Roman sense of the existence of gods, was affirmed right after the death of Jesus on the cross when the leader of the Roman soldiers said, “Surely this was the son of a god”.

And notice in the gospels that the opponents of Jesus did not question that he had actually performed miracles. Looking closely at the stories of Jesus, his opponents objected to his miracle-working on the Sabbath day or they assumed that Jesus had used the power of the devil to perform miracles. They in no way questioned that extra-natural events had taken place by the efforts of Jesus.

Taking a step back to a pre-Enlightenment sense of life, the gospel stories surrounding Christmas also will come with more clarity to us. To the modern Western mind, it might be impossible to imagine ancient astrologers (“magi”) travelling a long distance based on astronomical events in order to pay homage to the brith of a foreign king. We see, however, that the people of the time took this all very seriously when those magi arrived in Jerusalem and asked “Where is the one who was just born as the king of the Jews?”

Likewise, when a baby was born in ancient Judea, the friends and family of the child would come together and sing around the home of the newborn in joy and happiness. So the coming of a large group of singing angels to nearby shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus was a supernatural event that fit the natural cultural traditions of that time and place.

When you read the ancient stories of Jesus’s birth, take a quiet moment to let go of strictly held ideas that only what is seen and can be scientifically measured is real. When you do, these stories will take root in a fresh way in your heart.

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A Lamb and a Basket of Fruit

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on December 13, 2008

Near the beginning of the history of humanity, in the second generation of the human race, there were two brothers. Unlike their parents, neither brother had had the opportunity to know God personally by talking with him face-to-face. Yet both brothers had the desire to please God, and so each one prepared a gift for God. One brother worked hard in his field and brought a basket filled with a variety of fruits to present to God as a gift. His younger brother brought a lamb as a sacrifice to God.

For some reason, God liked the gift of the younger brother, but God didn’t accept the fruit basket from the older one.

Yet we might ask ourselves today: why would an all-powerful God care about one particular gift and yet disregard another? Could he not create anything that he wants at any time that he wants?

Well, it was not the actual gifts that counted, but, rather, the attitudes of the hearts of the brothers that mattered to God. The older one said to himself as he put his basket of fruits together: “Look at what I’ve done for God. I’ve worked hard for many months, from sunrise to sunset each day, to grow these pieces of fruit for God. Surely God will recognize all of the hard work that I’ve done for him and accept my gift with great pleasure. With this gift, God will also grant me a favored place in the sight of my family.” The younger one, on the other hand, said something like this to himself as prepared his lamb as a gift for God: “You know, there is really nothing that I could give to God that he couldn’t provide for himself if he really wanted to do that. I also see that my parents had once had a much closer relationship with God, even to the point of speaking with him face-to-face on a daily basis. That opportunity is now closed off to me and my brother because my parents stepped outside of the spiritual boundaries that God had carefully set up for them. I have no power in and of myself to repair that breach of trust and relationship with God. Yet, I truly desire to show God that I love him. I love him because I can see that, since God did not destroy my parents even though they had disobeyed him, God must still have a plan for my family. The one way that I know how to demonstrate love is to make a sacrifice. If I let go of something that is very meaningful to me while expecting nothing in return, that’s the best that I can think of to show my love. After all, God made everything anyway, including all of the animals that I watch over. By giving one of them to God, I honor him and show that I’m not interested in hoarding what he has given to me for myself. By shedding its blood, there is no way back: It’s life will be poured out and I can never recover my loss. Yet, I’ll show God that I love him the most, by giving up one of my finest lambs to him. Its very life will demonstrate the love that I have for him.”

The older brother approached God by an attitude of exchange and barter: I do something for God; now God should do something for me. The younger brother came to God with an attitude of love and sacrifice: I give up something special to him, one of my lambs in the prime of its life, simply because I love him.

This way of the lamb is the way of love.

Article: “Shock of Recognition”

Posted in: Current Events,Popular Culture by bill-o on December 06, 2008

If you have a moment, please take the time to read newspaper columnist Paul Greenburg’s article commenting on the tragic death of a store worker in New York state on Black Friday:

Please be warned that this article will prick your conscience in regards to greed, materialism, and commercialism.

“Black Friday” in the United States is the day after the American Thanksgiving holiday (which is always the 4th Thursday in November). Many, but not all, workers enjoy a holiday from work on Black Friday, and so take the occassion to shop for gifts for Christmas or other winter holidays. More people in the U.S. go to stores to shop on Black Friday than on any other day of the year. Black Friday is called by the color black because it is often the day that merchants make so many sales that they are said to go from the color red (the accounting color for a deficit) to the color black (the accounting color for a surplus).

Over time, it has become a tradition for retailers to provide unusually high discounts on their products during Black Friday, particularly during the morning. Also, it has become a tradition for stores to open at eariler and eariler hours on Black Friday: now, some stores even open at 4:00 a.m (0400).

The stores with the best sales on Black Friday are known to attract large crowds. These crowds gather close to the door in the middle of the night and then rush in as soon as the doors of the store are opened. The customers move quickly into the stores so that they can get their hands on featured products before other customers do.

Until Black Friday 2008, these events often led to minor assaults (some pushing and shoving), but nothing really serious. This past Friday, however, a large crowd of customers rushed in to a Wal Mart store on Long Island, New York, and trampled to death a worker there who was trying to save a pregnant woman from serious injury.

In the midst of this tragedy, we greatly admire the deceased worker who courageously laid his life down to help someone else. Yet, at the same time, we are greatly saddened by the callousness of a crowd which would trample someone to death in order to purchase an item at a discount price.

Shadows and Symbols would like to express our condolences to our friends in the Russian Orthodox community on the occassion of the death of Patriarch Alexei II. Spritual leader to about 100 million people, Alexei II died at his Moscow home on Friday, December 5, at the age of 79.

Alexei II was elected patriarch in June 1990, and presided over the Russian Orthodox Church during many imortant events in the history of Russia: the aborted coup of the Soviet Union in the summer 1991 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of that year, the turbulent years of Boris Yeltsin, and the rise of Vladimir Putin to the presidency of the Russian Federation in January 2000.

The patriarch’s legacy upon the Russian Orthodox Church is profound. For example, there were only 18 Russian Orthodox monasteries in Russia and Ukraine at the time of his election. Today, there are 700. Alexei II will also be remembered for playing a key role in reuniting the Russian Orthodox Church inside of Russia with the Russian Orthodox Church in exile (the Church Abroad) in 2007.

Please see the story at Religion News for more details: