AM: Psalm 8, 148
PM: Psalm 14, 150 or 104;
Daniel 12:1-3 or 2 Kings 6:8-17;
Mark 13:21-27 or Revelation 5:1-14
Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
Bright seraphs, cherubim and thrones,
Raise the glad strain, Alleluia!
Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers,
Virtues, archangels, angels’ choirs:
O higher than the cherubim,
More glorious than the seraphim,
Lead their praises, Alleluia!
Thou bearer of th’eternal Word,
Most gracious, magnify the Lord.
Respond, ye souls in endless rest,
Ye patriarchs and prophets blest,
Ye holy twelve, ye martyrs strong,
All saints triumphant, raise the song.
O friends, in gladness let us sing,
Supernal anthems echoing,
To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One.
--- Lyrics by John A.L. Riley
Angels-- heavenly beings with wings, haloes, maybe harps, certainly pious faces except maybe the cherubs which we tend to think of more as chubby baby-type angels with some mischief in mind although nothing more sinister than a simple prank. Many people believe that they have guardian angels around them, watching over them and protecting them from snares and pitfalls if not outright danger and impending doom. The Jewish people do not believe in guardian angels, so to speak, but their sages have taught that that for every mitzvah (good deed) they do, they create another guardian angel who serves to protect them and will speak on their behalf before the throne of God. Most Christians who recognize personal guardian angels limit themselves to a single one, but sometimes call on one of the stars of the angelic world -- the archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and/or Uriel--for assistance in particular times of trouble. Somehow it's comforting to think of having something flying about my head, acting as a headlight in the darkness, a searchlight if I'm lost, a candle burning when I need hope, and a shaft of light when I need the protection of it around me.
James Kieffer's excellent piece on Michael and all angels* gives a wealth of information on angels, both specific and generic angels. In reading it, my mind started playing the hymn whose lyrics are printed above. It's one of those ear worms I get from time to time, this time, though, much less irritating than the mindless advertising jingle or bit of an annoying song that gets stuck like a wheel in a rut. At least this one gives me some scope, some information and some theology, like the names of the seven ranks of heavenly beings - seraphim, cherubim, etc. I doubt that if I got to the Pearly Gates I’d be required to be able to answer that, still somehow it's one of those bits of information that is comforting to know even if not immensely useful. Each of the ranks has a job, a duty in the heavenly cohort, but all of them are part of the group surrounding the throne of God, leading the praise and carrying out God's orders and desires and bringing messages from God to human beings.
There are people about whom we could say, "Oh, they're such an angel!" and mean it most sincerely. They come at unexpected moments, offer advice, instructions or a way out of something, perhaps just bring a moment of beauty and grace into life then seemingly fade back in to the background (or the normal role they play in our lives) until the next time.
When I was a teen, I was given the book Angel Unaware by Dale Evans Rogers. It was the story of Robin, the daughter of Dale and Roy Rogers, childhood heroes of mine. Robin was born with severe handicaps and Downs Syndrome. Her life was brief, only a couple of years, but rather than being a burden to them, she was truly a blessing, hence the title which came from the scripture “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2). It impressed me and I’ve never forgotten that book. It made me more conscious of angels coming in unexpected places and ways. For me, I feel I have quite a few angels, most of them watching from heaven but some on earth as well. Some of them here never darken a church door, some attend church regularly, but whether they espouse a traditional Christian belief or not, they show me what good news is about: caring, compassion, support, occasional chiding, advising, and the like. I have a feeling just about everybody can name at least one person in their lives or whom their lives have touched, no matter how briefly, that fills that bill. I can think of dozens of times when those angels have brought me some sort of message I needed to hear or feel, even when they didn't realize they were doing it; they simply acted in a way that helped me in some way, and definitely convinced me that God was indeed present.
I wonder what would happen if I actually started actively looking for angels in strange places -- on street corners, at work, in a store, at a park, or almost any place where two or more people occupy the same space, even if it is cyberspace. Does it have to be an announcement on the order of Gabriel speaking to Mary? There were angels who announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. Did Jacob wrestle with God or with an angelic representation of God? There are lots of examples in scripture and tradition of angels being and doing things that in some way touch the lives of human beings. As the Psalmist puts it:
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. (Ps.91:11-12)
Heaven knows, I've had experience with angels in my life who have borne me up when I was falling, gave me a word when hope was flagging, and even now and again pulled me out of messes I'd gotten myself into. Those angels, very human angels, didn't preach good news, they lived it and showed it. They weren't awe-inspiring, haloed, winged beings shining brighter than the sun, they were regular recognizable human beings who, I am convinced, God sent at that moment when I needed them most. Knowing God is there is powerful and wonderful, but sometimes a human pair of arms is what I need.
In thinking of implications of angels in my life, I wonder if I’m really tuned in to spotting the work of angels, even and especially incognito ones. Small random acts of kindness can be angelic, as can giving a word of encouragement or warning. Simple things, but nonetheless things that point not to the person but to the God beyond the person. I wonder, where can I look for angels, not just for me but for others and the world itself? What if I could pass on one bit of good news today what would it be and how could I do it? Would I even recognize the opportunity when it came?
I can say I will try today to look for angels and to try to be one myself. It's a goal for me to live in the intention of sharing good news either by word or by action. Perhaps that is the key -- intention, mindful intention. to think seriously enough about something to actually try to do it in an awake, aware state of mind. Sounds like a tall order, but then, angels do simple things as well as mighty ones. So now it’s up to me.
Perhaps there's only one way to find out the answer, isn't there?
* found here
Originally published at
Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café on Saturday, September 29, 2012.