Tuesday, December 23, 2008


It’s the time of year for that which Thomas Aquinas called “separated substances” – angels, that is. These invisible bodies don’t seem to fit into our post-modern society, but annunciations occur all the time; we just refer to them as characters or events in our Unconscious. Angels appear to be demanding more attention than they have for centuries. Perhaps they’re responding to those of us who live in a complex industrial society and who search for symbols of hope, love, and peace. Or perhaps they’re simply responding to the 1918 prediction by Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy (study of the wisdom of the human spirit) who declared that up until the year 2000, humankind would be assigned the job of becoming seriously aware of the angels. During this time he predicted angels would search for us, attempting to connect with us in a conscious way.

The word “angel” originated from a Greek translation of the Hebrew word Mal’akh which means the shadow side of God. Later, the word was interpreted as messenger. Angels are mentioned in recorded history as far back as 3000 years before the birth of Christ. They had their birth in the ancient cultures of Egypt, Babylon, and Persia, and continued to flourish in the Greek and Roman cultures. Angels have been defined as expressions of God by the Gnostics who were alive during Christ’s time. Representations of great winged creatures appeared in the Book of Genesis, and angels came to Abraham in the form of three men who sat under an oak tree and even ate a meal with Abraham. The Greeks also believed that angels and men could get together and bear children, but by the time the Jews were captured in Babylon, in 600 B.C., angels had moved up to higher forms. They quickly developed into part animal, part spirit creatures with large birdlike wings that moved with remarkable speed.

Today, they symbolize moments of insight and clarity. Always, the winged forms carry us into higher states of illumination. They represent a way for God to communicate with His creatures, make contact with human consciousness. Do angels live forever? A Greek theologian, Origen, believed that they not only live and die but are subject to evolutions over many lifetimes. Whether angels live forever or die as humans do, they seem to be eternal in the divine mythical sense – most people in all cultures and centuries want to believe they have guardian angels that keep them safe and uplifted, and that guide their souls toward contemplation of eternal issues. Plato once described an angel as a messenger moving between heaven and earth in a lightly rushing motion. Ancient Gnostics believed that an angel is the soul within, a spiritual counterpart, and an inseparable part of us. For Carl Jung, the psychologist, the angel emerged as intuitive cognition, our direct knowing of the part of our many selves that is awesome and spiritual. In the mystical writings of the Jewish Kabbalists, ten angels form fundamental channels of divine energy, bearing abstract names like beauty, power, grace, knowledge, and wisdom.

In the ever-popular “It’s A Wonderful Life,” the movie that plays and replays during the Christmas season, Zuzu says “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” She was among 69% of the American population that expresses a belief in angels, according to former polls conducted by “Time” magazine. When I coordinated a women’s writing group at the Episcopal Church of Epiphany, in New Iberia, we wrote meditations about angels after reading Sophy Burnham’s bestseller, A BOOK OF ANGELS. A class member, Margaret Simon, wrote this sketch concerning a guardian angel during a 20-minute meditation period in a meeting of the writing group:

“An angel is God in the same sense that… a butterfly is God. An angel can come near to us and give us the comfort of God’s presence. I have always felt that Margaret Shields Liles is my guardian angel. She was my maternal grandmother. She died three months before I was born, and I was given her first name. Whenever I visited my grandfather’s house, I would sense her presence in a huge, life-size portrait of her which took up the entire space on one wall in his tiny living room. I was spooked by her portrait, but at the same time, I felt comforted. She holds a violin gently in her lap, and I can imagine her gently cradling me.

“Perhaps my guardian angel was with me when my first-born daughter, also named Margaret, suddely became ill. When Maggie was four months old, she was placed in intensive care because she had developed an unusually high heart rate. She was given medication to reduce the rate, but it didn’t work. The doctors in New Iberia decided that she should be sent by helicopter to Oschner’s Clinic in New Orleans to see a pediatric cardiologist. In the helicopter, the paramedics instructed me to lie on the stretcher with Maggie strapped to my chest. I could feel her heart racing next to mine. I remember the loudness of the helicopter’s motor and the smooth lift upward. As we flew through the night sky, I prayed furiously. An amazing feeling of calm swept over me, and I knew with certainty that everything would be all right.

“The doctor at Oschner’s found Maggie’s heart normal – just accelerated – which indicated an infection. After a few tests, it was revealed that Maggie had pneumonia in one lung. She went home in two days with a hoarse voice and a minor cough. I received calmness that disturbing night. I believe that God’s presence, in the form of an angel (probably Margaret Liles), gave me the comfort and calm I needed and also took care of Maggie.” – Margaret Simon –Excerpted from MEDITATIONS OF MY HEART by the Women’s Reflection Group, Church of Epiphany, New Iberia, LA.

Angels! They’re those spiritual guides who show us unconditional love and who often intervene in moments of crisis to protect us from fatality or to create a miracle that brings more love and joy into our lives. Angels! They’re forceful beings who move beyond conscious control. By entertaining these creatures of beauty and light, we can connect with a power that not only protects us from disaster but trains us in the art of happiness. They abolish worry, transform crises into humor, and create in us a feeling of sublime abundance that resonates throughout the universe.

May the angels bring you tidings of great joy this Christmas season!

Note: Painting by my brother, Paul.

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