Monday, October 28, 2013

Jack-O’-Lanterns – a Halloween Tradition

I am not a great supporter of the Halloween traditions, especially regarding all the candy the kid get and eat, and sometimes even get sick from (not because they were tricked but rather because too much is not good for the young bodies).

I found one tradition of Halloween which I like: carving pumpkins.  It invites the creative side of the carver, and we can even use the seeds to eat after roasting them.

I didn’t realize how much folklore there is around carving this simple gourd, but apparently, it is popular in many Western countries.

I found this origin of pumpkin carving from Ireland most intriguing:

The Legend of "Stingy Jack"

People have been making jack-o'-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern," and then, simply "JackO'Lantern."

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack's lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the “jack o'lantern” tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack-o'-lanterns.

This Halloween, when you carve your pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern, you may want to say a prayer for Stingy Jack that he may finally rest in peace.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Proof of Heaven

The book is the personal encounter and testimony of Dr. Eben Alexander, a neuro-surgeon who had a near-death experience (NDE) while in a coma for 7 days due to a severe bacterial infection caused by meningitis. 

He describes his personal history before and after the coma and explains in length his experiences in the other spiritual world.  This vast happening took him into realms which humans can only experience after they pass from this world, but he was told by his celestial guide that he would learn a lot but that he would return to his life on earth.  The condensed message is:

 ·       You are loved and cherished more than you will ever know

·       You have nothing to fear

·       You can’t do anything wrong

One insight which Dr. Alexander perceived was that the purpose of evil exists for man to exercise his free will.  Even though, it seems a common Christian idea taken from the Bible, I don’t agree with it.

“The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil.”
~ Proverbs 16:4

Some people do believe that God created evil, and it is part of the dualities like up and down, left and right, and positive and negative.  Since God is only good, He could not create evil.  God can only create what is in HIM.  God cannot relate or change evil.  That is one reason why He cannot change the evil ways of man.  People often asked, “why isn’t God doing anything about wars, or why did this disaster happened, or why is the weather so strange?” God created laws and principles which rule the universe and He gave man free will to become the Lord over creation.  He also gave us an additional commandment which we were to obey until we became mature enough to rule the universe. 

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
~ Genesis 2:15-17

Is says that in the Garden of Eden, there were two trees, one was the Tree of Life representing Adam, and then there was another tree, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, representing Eve.  Unfortunately, Eve made a bad choice by disobeying the commandment: do not eat of this tree unless you shall die.  For whatever reason, a similar story has appeared in many religions and cultures around the world. Through the revelation given to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, we learn that Lucifer, the angel of light and truth who was to help and serve Adam and Eve while they were immature, misguided Eve and lied to her. 
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

“The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”
~ Genesis 3:1-7

Because of this disobedience and betrayal the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represented by Eve brought evil into the world and murder was committed within the first human family.

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
~ Gen 4:8
One repeating thought I got from Dr. Alexander’s book: NOW is the time that people have to hear this message that God, the Um, or the Divine Creator is reaching out to us humans.  Like never before in all of human history He wants us to know the meaning of love and how this lesson can bring unity among all people, all religions, and even between the scientific and the religious world.  God in all of his infinite attributes is more human and understands human nature better than any of us (He is the creator of us after all).  Man needs to know the nature of the unseen, spiritual world and the principles which govern this other realm while we are still in this physical body with a brain and the potential of reasoning.  Although many other people have had NDEs before and spoken and written about it, his experience as a scientist is specifically important.

In that way Dr. Eben Alexander became a modern day prophet, revealing many deep secrets of the unseen universe.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Choice – the Gift from God

I believe that God, in His/Her infinite love, gave man the freedom of choice.  He created us in His/Her own image, with the potential to grow in love and understanding, that we could be true children, who can respond to their parent by their own choice.

Unfortunately, our first human ancestors decided to go their own way, and ended up creating a world of selfishness and destruction.

“I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.”
~ Deuteronomy 30:19

In the beginning, God set before us a commandment, not to eat of the tree of good and evil (Genesis 2:16–17).  There was only one choice to make it right. 
After men fell, during the Old Testament Age, Moses brought the 10 Commandments to give people limits.  When Jesus arrived, he opened up the New Testament Age, and he told his disciples to love God, and to love their fellow men.  Now, in the Completed Testament Age, True Parents have given us only one direction and that is “to discover God’s Heart.”  It looks like mankind came around full circle to finally start this relationship right: as spiritual beings we can be one with the all-mighty, all-knowing, omnipotent, omnipresent, and awesome God.  That means we can be like him, becoming true sons and daughters, just like Jesus, the first-born son and savior.

"For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
~ Galatians 5:13

Paradox of Choice
I was reading a book by the same name and learned from Barry Schwartz, the author, that the more choices we have, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

He talks about the overload of choices, and how it can make some people sick and overwhelmed.  Mr. Schwartz proves that we can only experience true freedom when we can accept limits, either self-imposed through discipline or through laws or given traditions.

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
~ Ephesians 5:15-17

The Power of Choice
Man was given free will:

Choices give us motivation:

Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent.

"Since man fell according to his own will, God lets man make his own choice about whether to go to Satan or himself.  If the man chooses to go to God at this time then Satan must give in.  If in making the offering this person becomes completely one with the person in the Abel position and then wishes to stay on God's side, Satan has nothing to say."
~Rev. Sun Myung Moon, "Day of All Things," 6.6.1978

Even the law of the land gives us certain freedoms:

The First Amendment

The First Amendment is perhaps the most important part of the Bill of Rights. It protects five of the most basic liberties. They are freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government to right wrongs. These were the guarantees that the Antifederalists missed most in the new Constitution.

Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion means that the government may not force you to accept one set of religious beliefs, nor may it interfere with the way you worship.

Freedom of Speech
This freedom entitles American citizens to say what they think, provided they do not intentionally hurt someone else's reputation by making false accusations. Neither may they make irresponsible statements deliberately harmful to others, such as yelling, "Fire!" in a crowded theater when there is no fire. There are many issues about which Americans disagree, from child-rearing practices to baseball teams to Presidential candidates. Freedom of speech enables people to state their opinions openly to try to convince others to change their minds.

Freedom of the Press
This freedom makes it possible for Americans to keep informed about what is going on in government. It helps them to be responsible citizens. Reporters and editors can criticize the government without the risk of punishment, provided they do not deliberately tell lies. Newspapers, magazines, and books, as well as television and movie scripts, do not have to be submitted for government inspection before they are published. This censorship would violate the First Amendment.

Freedom of Assembly
This freedom makes it possible for Americans to join clubs or political parties, even if those groups represent unpopular views. Because of the First Amendment, people can join groups to promote animal rights, the nuclear freeze, or conservation. They can join groups to protest government intervention in Haiti, imported clothes and shoes, toxic wastes, or aid to Serbia or Bosnia. By sharing common interests, Americans can learn to work together. There are groups devoted to the interests of young people. Scout troops and 4-H clubs are but two examples.

Freedom to Petition
This important freedom allows people to tell the government what they think is needed. They can try to prevent the government from acting in a certain way. They can complain to the government without fear of penalty when things aren't going the way they should.
"Each man must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong,
which course is patriotic and which isn't.
You cannot shirk this and be a man.
To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor,
both to yourself and to your country."
~ Mark Twain

For myself I have reserved a simple way of making decisions. I ask myself: does my choice bring me closer to God or take me further away?  For most of the important decisions that works well for me.  It gets harder when I have to decide what to eat from a menu or what to wear for the day.  But then again, those are not life-changing choices.


Monday, October 7, 2013

O - O - Olives

When I visited my brother this past spring in Southern Spain, I got a taste of Spanish Olives.  The ones he served as tapas (appetizers) were stuffed with anchovies, oh - so delicious. The Spaniards eat them along with chorizo, a type of pork sausage or little sandwiches.  I also came to like the ones stuffed with garlic or pimientos.

Olive plantations Southern Spain
The first time I flew into Malaga, Spain, I was greeted by the olive plantations.  They looked like lush green balls, all lined up in rows, covering hill after hill.  After I tasted olives and really liked them, I did some research after coming back home, and discovered that we can buy most of them also here in America.

Here are my findings about olives:

The olive is a fruit from the  Olea europaea tree of the Oleaceae family.  In the middle of the fruit is one pit or stone.  Lilac, jasmine and forsythia are in the same plant family.  Some trees can become hundreds or even thousands of years old and still bear fruits.  The fruit is harvested in different stages as green, purple to black.  To fasten the process, commercial black olives are often treated with ferrous sulfate to achieve the black color.

Olives are grown for the oil, but the fruit also has its health benefits.

HealthBenefits of Olives 

Olives contain polyphenols which have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.  The fat content of olive’s monounsaturated fat (MUFA) can benefit lowering of high blood pressure and a healthy heart. MUFA is the healthy kind of fat compared to saturated fats and trans-fats. Olives can also help relieve pain because of oleocanthal, an anti-inflammatory compound and benefit stomach ulcers by eliminating certain bacteria. For those who are low in iron olives can raise iron count. It also contains fare amounts of copper and Vitamin E.

While the oil of the fruit is 100% fat, the fruits usually only contain about 20% fat. 

Since olives from the tree are bitter, they are cured in different methods, either water-cured, brine cured (salt water - some fermentation occurs in the process), or lye cured. The curing process adds flavor to the olives.

Interesting fact about olive trees

There are some trees in the Garden of Gethsemane (which is the Hebrew word for "gat shemanim" or olive press) which are dated back to the time of Jesus, 2000 years ago.
For thousands of years the olive branch has been used as a sign of peace and goodwill. This may be partly due to the fact that in early cultivation of the olive, it took decades to bear fruit for harvest, and, therefore, it was believed that anyone who planted olive groves was expecting a long and peaceful life. The symbolism is also likely related to the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark and the dove.
Olive oil has been used to light lamps, to create heat, is used as food, medicine and perfume.  In religious traditions the oil is used to anoint and bless people.

The Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil and the fruits.

Spain has the highest olive production in the world. The largest olive is called “dunkey olive” and the smallest is called “bullet olive.”
The most popular olives are the Kalamata olives from Kalamata, Greece.

15 olives can count as your daily serving of fruits.

 Christopher Columbus brought olive oil to America, but the trees were not introduced until later.

Go and try some olives and get to love them.