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Angels among us

Published August 17. 2013 09:04AM

Do you believe in angels?

They are not confined to the Bible as some ancient beings that were here at some point but now are gone.

Many of us still do this day believe that angels watch over us, protect us if we wish and act in the affairs of humanity when needed. An Associated Press poll conducted in 2011 showed at that time that 8 in 10 people believe in angels. That's 80% of our population and while one might think that is skewed by religion, four out of ten non-religious folks also believe.

There are several people in Missouri who probably had a renewed belief in angels as many believe one visited the scene of an accident to comfort and reassure workers that an accident victim would be safe. Katie Lentz was in a bad accident that trapped her in her car. Rescue workers were struggling to get her free when she asked if they would stop and pray with her. A mysterious figure stepped forward and prayed and told Katie she would be safe.

Soon after the figure returned to the background, additional personnel arrived on that lonely Missouri road and the new tools were able to release her so she could get treatment.

For over a week, the "MissourI Angel" evaded identification but now in a turn of events, the mystery man has been identified as Father Patrick Dowling. Father Dowling said he was at the scene of the craah and heard Lentz's plea for prayer. He stepped forward and absolved Katie of her sins and prayed for her leg.

After he did this for her, Dowling said he stepped back with the rescue personnel and prayed on the rosary until she was rescued. In fact, he actually told a police officer who he was before he left the scene, but obviously everyone's attention was focused on the victim and the rescue so his little good deed slipped from the joint conscious memories of the event.

So how did a normal good deed done by a priest temporarily become a miracle at least for a week? Just like the magician's art, it boils down to misdirection but not in an intentional way. The brain is bombarded with stimuli from so many sources simultaneously that it learns quickly to survive by only paying attention to the most important things it needs to protect us and let's extraneous stuff pass through without a thought.

There's a show on one of the National Geographic Channels called "Brain Games" that has illustrated this point in different ways. For example, a man asks random strangers for directions. During the two to three minute exchange, the man not only changes clothing and characteristics but an entirely different person is substituted in while the stranger's attention is focused on something else even though the switch occurs in full view. This is a wonderful illustration as to how an accident bystander could transform into an angel in supposed answer to a woman's prayer, and then disappear into the background with no one knowing where he went.

There were several things at play here. First, the rescue workers were so focused on the woman and freeing her that they probably spared no more than a temporary interest in the mystery man and when it came time to identify him, they probably honestly had no idea from where he came or to where he eventually went. The woman was in severe trauma so she probably could not focus enough or physically see where the man went. While the crew was working to free her, the several other emergency personnel on the scene probably did not ever realize what happened. To them, seeing a priest step forward to give a prayer to a severely injured woman probably did not seem that unusual and they most likely did not pay attention to where he went after fulfilling her request. These things acted in concert to make the priest fade into a mythic memory of an angel appearing at the request for prayer.

So was our flesh and blood priest an angel? Not in the strictest sense of the word, but for that time, for those rescuers and the victim, he was the angel they needed to see at that moment. God works in mysterious ways and it could just be He made sure the priest was where he needed to be at that time to minister to the woman and keep her calm. Or it could be a coincidence that he was where he needed to be.

No matter how you believe he came to be in that space sharing that moment with the victim, he provided comfort and aid just like we would expect a supernatural angel to do. And perhaps that is enough for us for now.

I will say I'm an open minded one of the eight in 10 that believe in angels, but as a technical and analytically wired soul, there are occasions when I have a hard time trusting they are there, but then something happens to change my mind. A dream with information delivered by a voice I cannot place that comes true later. A close encounter several years ago with another car during my commute when my car missed a sure collision and we ended up safe on the side of the road with no memory as to how I escaped injury. These two incidents are just a few of the ones that have me firmly entrenched in the angel camp.

While Mr. Dowling may not be the speculated about angel, he was in the right place at the right time, and gave Katie Lentz what she needed to get through the rescue. He may not have wings but that puts him in my angel category anyway.

What do you think?

Til Next time…

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