Friday, March 27, 2020

Archangel Raphael

Raphael is the angel associated with healing. In Hebrew, his name translates to "the medicine of God." Catholics refer to Raphael as the patron saint of doctors, nurses and medical workers. Throughout Italy, health facilities are called Raphael Centers.
     Raphael is one of four archangels. The others are Michael, Gabriel and Uriel. In the New Testament, Raphael is thought to be the unnamed angel who stirs the healing pool at Bethesda. In the Babylonian Talmud, three angels appear to Abraham. Each is given a specific mission by God. Michael is told to inform Sarah she will give birth to Isaac. Gabriel is told to destroy Sodom. Raphael's charge is to heal and save human beings.
   The Bible teaches that angels are real and can work on our behalf. ("Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?") But we are not to worship or pray directly to angels. We are to worship and pray only to God.  ("Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.") Angels do God's bidding. Their power comes from God. When they intervene on our behalf, they've been sent by God.
     Several years ago, I was suffering from horrible allergies. I visited my doctor but he was inconclusive. Medicine was ineffective. I went on a wheat and dairy detox but the allergies continued. I prayed to God for guidance. I woke one morning with a word in my head. "Aubergine." My wife told me this is French for eggplant. I booked an appointment with a kinesiologist who'd helped me with health issues over the years. She concluded I was allergic to nightshade vegetables. She gave me a list of foods to avoid: tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and of course, eggplant. I abstained from eggplant and the allergies went away.
     According to the book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Connecting With Your Angels, this is how Raphael works. He provides hunches to guide you in your healing. He often works in riddles (as in "aubergine"). Maybe he'll inform a dream with an obscure message. He's a bit of a prankster. He might drop healing foods into your shopping cart or knock a book off a shelf you're meant to read. Perhaps he'll "accidentally" cue you to a new way of thinking.
     In 1928, the British bacteriologist Alexander Fleming returned from a vacation to his London lab. He noticed something unusual in one of his petri dishes. New colonies of Staphylococcus had spread throughout the dish except in one area where a blob of green mold was growing. He tested the mold and found it to be a rare strain of Penicillium notatum. The mold secreted a "juice" that inhibited growth of the Staph bacteria. Further testing revealed the mold killed other harmful bacteria like streptococcus, meningococcus and diphtheria bacillus. This is how the world's first antibiotic was discovered. Fleming's biographer Gwyn Macfarlane wrote that the discovery of Penicillin was "a series of chance events of almost unbelievable improbability."
      Raphael heals the body, mind and spirit. He delivers those who are plagued by dark energies. In the apocryphal Book of Tobit (part of the Catholic biblical canon), Raphael protects Sarah and Tobias from the demon Asmodeus.  Raphael reminds us to focus on God's light. He teaches that stress and worry do not help the healing process.  He is associated with laughter and he helps us to see the humor in all situations.
     In 1964, journalist Norman Cousins was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful and crippling collagen disease. Doctors gave him a 1 in 500 chance of recovery. He realized he needed to learn why his body was reacting as it did. Among his vast collection of books, one stood out: Hans Selye's The Stress of Life. He read that negative emotions like frustration or suppressed rage are linked to illness. This gave him a hunch. If negative emotions make you sick, perhaps positive emotions like love, joy and laughter are healing.
     He took out his 16mm movie projector and watched Marx Brothers Films, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton. He binge-watched Candid Camera. He noted that just ten minutes of induced laughter per day produced two hours of painless sleep. He put himself on a laughter therapy regimen. The more he laughed, the faster he healed. His pain diminished and he regained the use of his limbs. Within two years he was walking again and cured of the disease. Doctors were baffled. Cousins wrote about his experience in the 1979 book An Anatomy of An Illness. He lived pain-free until dying at the age of 75 in 1990.
     In classic artistic depictions of Raphael, he is usually shown holding a staff symbolizing healing or with a caduceus emblem representing the medical profession. Believers say Raphael's energy corresponds with the color green. When Raphael is present, you may see or sense an emerald green light. Green crystals like malachite or emerald are used by healers to invoke Raphael's presence. The penicillin mold in Alexander Fleming's petri dish was green. The 1956 first edition book cover of The Stress of Life featured author Hans Selye's name in green.
     In the Book of Tobit, Raphael takes human form to help a family in distress. He heals them and protects them from evil. Only at the end of the story does he reveal his true angelic nature and his mission. "The Lord hath sent me to heal thee…For I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven who stand before the Lord…when I was with you I was there by the will of God…It is time that I return to him that sent me; bless ye God and publish all his wonderful works." (7" x 9", black ink print)

Saturday, March 7, 2020


When I heard the news of Kobe Bryant's death, my first instinct was to call my father. My dad died back in October and we'd always bonded over the Lakers. I yearned for his voice to help me make sense of Kobe's passing.
     I spent the next week immersed in news articles, sports talk and Kobe YouTube clips. I spent hours on the phone with friends commiserating and speculating on the cause of the accident. I drove to Staples Center and walked among thousands of grieving Lakers fans. No one wanted to accept reality. 41-year Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles's favorite son, was gone and he was not coming back.
     Kobe was complicated.  He was brash and petulant and often rubbed people the wrong way. There was the sexual assault accusation in Colorado and the feud with Shaquille O'Neal. In the 2006 playoffs against Phoenix, Kobe refused to shoot costing the Lakers the game in order to prove that his teammates were awful. His own coach Phil Jackson wrote that Kobe "was uncoachable."
     Kobe was a basketball prodigy. His skill set was unmatched and his work ethic legendary. To watch Kobe play basketball was like watching Baryshnikov dance or Bobby Fischer play chess. His jump shot was elegant, his footwork sublime. He was a tactical master able to exploit opponent weaknesses and psych out rivals with Jedi-level trash talk. Unlike anyone since Michael Jordan, Kobe's strength was his tenacity and willingness to do whatever was necessary to win a game. This is why Lakers fans loved him. He gave everything he had and became an on-court role model for how to live life with passion and commitment.
     The day Kobe died Los Angeles had it's heart ripped out. People were dazed and confused. Kobe was like a superhero. He can't die. If he dies, what chance do the rest of us have? Everyone was glued to their phones waiting for news updates. When the revelation came that Kobe's daughter also died, people lost it.
     Speculation immediately arose about the cause of the accident. The morning was foggy. Law enforcement helicopters were grounded. Yet Kobe's pilot was given permission to fly. Everyone I spoke with asked the same question. Did Kobe urge the pilot to fly despite the dangers? This seemed like a Kobe move. Or did the pilot himself feel pressure to please his A-List client?
     It was reported that Kobe and his daughter received communion at an Orange County church prior to the accident. This prompted a friend to suggest that Kobe accomplished his duties on earth and was being called back to God. But what about his daughter, I asked. "Sometimes people get swept up in the energy field of others." My friend, like everyone else, was trying to make sense of the senseless.
     Watching an interview with Tracy McGrady on ESPN, I heard a story about Kobe's early days. McGrady shared how 17-year old Kobe predicted his future in the NBA, how he'd win multiple championships, win MVP and score more points than Michael Jordan. All of these things came to fruition. Then McGrady added a coda. Kobe used to say, "I want to die young. I want to be immortalized."
     When I heard McGrady's words, I thought of the biblical passage about the power of the spoken word. "The tongue has the power of life and death." Kobe's will was indomitable. Combined with his passion, he was able to impress upon his subconscious a vision of fame and success. He spoke his future into existence. Did his statement about dying young play a part in his destiny?
     Kobe always wanted to be better than Michael Jordan. His primary competitor in this regard was Lebron James. The night before the accident, Lebron eclipsed Kobe's career scoring total. Kobe was gracious, tweeting "Much respect my brother" (his final tweet). Less than twelve hours later Kobe was dead. The sequence of events is surreal. Lebron breaks Kobe's record threatening Kobe's pursuit of immortality. Kobe dies in a tragic accident and his name is immortalized forever.
     Like my friends, I've been struggling to process the tragedy. Kobe brought me so much joy his death was like losing a friend. I've always yearned for life to make sense. Kobe's death makes no sense. We're all going to die. This is a fact that unites us and gives life meaning. Maybe the only lesson is to appreciate every moment since we don't know when our final day will come. (6" x 7", black ink print)