The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone. ~George Elliot
‘Tis the season for angels, angels, angels! We sing songs about angels, read stories about angels, we make angels in the snow, and of course, we put angel images everywhere. On cookies, in frames, frozen in sculpture, molded in chocolate, and then we even impale them on decorated trees.
Most of the angel images are of the sweet cherub variety – angels in the guise of small children. And most of the angels disguised as humans I have met have been under the age of seven. (of course I have met quite a few “devils” in this age group too) These cute little angels are messengers that call us back to play and make believe. They bring us tidings of unconditional love. They break our hearts when they are sad or hurt because they love so purely.
Biblical angels are a different matter altogether. When an angel shows up in a text, I often ask the congregation, “now what is the first thing an angel says?” Folks then call out: “behold” or “lo”, but actually the first thing a Biblical angel usually says is “fear not”. When the angels visit the shepherds on Christmas Eve, listen for this language about fear.
Fear not, indeed. In Tony Kushner’s brilliant play, “Angels in America”, the angel is terrifying, enthralling, mysterious, and sexy. The message of this angel is hard to decipher and can only be understood in the context of the struggle of Prior Walter to live and finally die with AIDS. S/he (angels are usually depicted as being quite androgynous) appears in supernatural visions and then in the guise of a wise nurse, a homeless woman, and more enigmatically as a real estate agent. The message of the voice/angel in this play is to tell Prior Walter that he is a prophet: that his life has meaning and how he lives with this plague matters. Prior, by conquering his fear of the angel (and God) will then be able to speak prophetic words of life in the midst of death.
I believe that angels – messengers of God – are hovering all about us. This is not a particularly “woo woo” sort of belief, nor do I think that we are surrounded by all sorts of strange spiritual beings. And I am particularly not interested in long discussions of fallen angels, angel armies, guardian angels, or the various hierarchies of angels in heaven and hell. Instead, I believe that bits and pieces of divine wisdom are scattered within creation and that there is much we can learn if we are simply willing to listen.
God is still speaking through little children, furry four-leggeds, mountains, valleys, tragedies, triumphs, and through our sisters and brothers – any one of whom may suddenly become an angel to us bringing a message from the Divine.
‘Tis the season for angels – can you hear them sing? speak? And if you find yourself suddenly fearful, listen very, very carefully, for an angel may be on the way.