My Protection

“Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”    Psalm 2:12


During my first taxi ride in Japan, I couldn’t help but notice an elaborate ornament swinging back and forth on the rear view mirror as the driver navigated through traffic. I later learned that this and a whole array of similar talismans or amulets are called “omamori” (お守り), which literally means “protection.” These small good luck charms are typically made from paper or wood and are usually protected inside an ornate bag along with a written prayer. They are sold at temples and shrines throughout the country with the promise that they will bring good fortune or protection to the bearer, but cynics largely view them as a clever means to raise money.

These omamori can be spotted on bags, hanging in cars, attached to various objects and are even used as cellphone straps. They come in many shapes, sizes and colors and different ones are advertised to possess different powers. Some offer businessmen success in the financial realm while others promise students a good outcome in their test scores. Other omamori guarantee general prosperity, protection from evil, happiness, traffic safety, good health, fertility, and a happy love life. The simple thought behind such charms is that the power and strength of the gods is somehow invested in these brocaded bags so they are not to be opened, as the blessing could be released and thereby lost.

It is generally understood that the shelf life of an omamori is only good for one year, which means a replacement must be purchased, conveniently bringing additional revenue to the local shrine or temple. These “expired” good luck charms must be properly disposed of, usually by burning, preferably at the place they were originally purchased. Eager to grab a share of the enormous profits in the good luck industry, it is now common for stores to sell generic omamori featuring the images of Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse, Snoopy and other popular characters.

The search to obtain protection from harm or to procure good fortune is a natural inclination of the human heart. Such a quest can take many forms and it is often shaped by our culture, circumstances and worldview. But all such attempts to manipulate one’s personal future are doomed to failure because they are based on the false assumption that we are in control of our own fate. We all seek desired outcomes in life that avoid pain and bring pleasure, but it is arrogant to think that we are in control of such matters, or that we possess the discernment to always know what is actually good or bad for us. Our uncomfortableness with the unpredictability of life is in fact a reminder that we should seek protection and refuge in God, who is our only omamori, or real source of protection. Everything else is a mere trinket.

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