Something is happening between heaven and earth, between God and us. And it’s happening all the time. The angels of God are ascending and descending. There is traffic, movement, and activity between heaven and earth. What looks to Jacob like empty space, just a good place to spend the night, is actually filled with presence (Genesis 28:10-17, Saint Michael and All Angels).
Presence. That’s the best way, and the only way, I know to begin talking about angels and the angelic realm. It’s all about presence. Whether they come to us as messengers, helpers, or defenders the angelic function is always about presence, God’s to us and ours to God.
I think we experience the angelic presence all the time but we don’t know what to make of it. It doesn’t fit our usual categories. We don’t know how to talk about it. Our words always seems inadequate. I think we want to believe in angels and their work among us but we don’t know what to think. The angelic doesn’t make sense and we try way too hard to explain what can’t be explained and to understand what can’t be understood. I think we all hope that there is more to this world and our lives than what we can touch, see, hear, taste, or smell. We long to live in the deeper presence but too often we don’t know how to enter into and trust the mystery.
When it comes to the angels I think there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. We could easily echo Jacob’s words, “I did not know.” I wonder if, in our confusion, misunderstanding, and not knowing, we have lost our angels.
Have we lost our angels to our sophistication, believing that if something cannot be seen, touched, or objectively proved then it can’t be real? Have we lost our angels to our superstitions, trading their power for magic and making them nothing more than a lucky charm to be worn, hung on a wall, or put in a garden? Have we lost our angels to our sentimentality, exchanging the messengers of God for chubby babies with wings, and blond haired girls dressed in white nightgowns playing harps? Have we lost our angels to the illusion of our own self-sufficiency, so full of ourselves that we’ve turned away from their help?
I don’t ask those questions as a judgment or criticism of anyone. I ask them as one who struggles to enter into and remain open to the mystery. I’m really asking them of myself. I have no final answers or explanations about the angels. I am not going to tell you the “Seven Essential Facts Everyone Should Know About Angels.” I don’t know them. Besides we don’t need more facts. So I am going to ask you to wonder with me, to wonder, “What if?” Wonder is what opens us to the mystery and the mystery, in turn, fills us with wonder.
Here are some of my wonderings.
- When I look across this sanctuary I see open space between you and me. My eyes tell me nothing is there. Quantum physics, however, tells me that space is full of stuff and activity, particles moving, spinning, and relating. So, if that’s true for the physical world I wonder if it’s not also true for the spiritual world. I wonder if there’s spiritual stuff and activity filling all that space. I wonder if that’s what the angelic might be like?
- The collect for today says that the angels serve and worship God and that they help and defend us. That sounds a lot like what faithful Christians do. We worship God. We care for one another. So, I wonder if what we do in the visible and tangible world the angels are doing in the invisible and intangible world. I wonder if there might be an angelic being, an angelic counterpart, for each human being.
- I wonder; if I can ask you to pray for me, to be present with me, and to assist me why shouldn’t I ask the same of the angels? I wonder if that’s what the collect means when it says that by God’s “appointment” they “help and defend us here on earth.”
- The Genesis reading tells us that the angels are ascending and descending. That seems backwards. It seems like they should descend first but that’s not what the text says. So, I wonder. I wonder if there is an angel out ahead of each one us ascending, guiding us through life and leading us to the heavenly realm. I wonder if when we sometimes get lost, get tired, fall, or go slow then the angel descends to come back for us. I wonder if it’s like when we are walking with someone and he or she gets ahead of us and then comes back to join us.
- Have you had moments where there is a sudden insight and the light comes on? You know that you know, but you don’t know how you know you know. It wasn’t because of information or facts that you know. You just do. As a friend of mine says, “You just know it in your knower.” I wonder if that might be the Archangel Uriel. His name means “Light of God.” I wonder, in those moments of knowing, if Uriel has shown up illumining us with divine light and presence.
- Have you ever looked at your life and seen pieces? It seemed your world and your life were broken, only fragments of what used to be. You don’t know how to put the pieces back together or whether your even have all the pieces. Then something happens, you begin to realize a new wholeness to yourself, your life, and your world; a wholeness you could never have imagined or given yourself. I wonder if, in those times, the Archangel Raphael is present. Raphael is the angel of healing. Raphael means “God’s healing” or “God the healer.”
- There have been times I have said to myself, “I don’t know what it is, I can’t explain it, but there is something holy, something sacred, about this place.” Sometimes I’ve felt that about another person, but it’s more than what he or she is saying or doing. Do you know what I mean? Has that happened to you? I wonder if those are times when the Archangel Gabriel has shown up. Gabriel, you know, is the one who announces life and God’s presence. Gabriel announced that old and barren Elizabeth would give birth. Gabriel announced that God would dwell bodily in Mary, that she would give birth to God’s son. I wonder if Gabriel shows up in those sacred and holy moments, announcing that God is with us and revealing life and divine presence in those moments, places, and people.
- I suspect we could all tell stories of times when it seemed we were on the brink of defeat, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Life was overwhelming. You struggled. You felt tired and weak. There was a battle being waged within you and it was more than you could handle. You didn’t think you could get through another day but you did, and you don’t really know how you did. I wonder if God had sent the Archangel Michael to your aid. I wonder if Michael’s presence, unbeknownst to you, brought the full strength of God’s power to do for you what you could not do for yourself. I wonder if Michael stands beside us in each of our battles and fights for our life.
- Have you ever left church thinking that was the most beautiful liturgy ever? It seemed everything was just right. The music was beautiful and you sang all your favorite songs. There was a flow and a peace you couldn’t describe. You really prayed the prayers. It was the same liturgy you prayed the week before but something was different this time. I wonder if it was the angelic presence. I wonder if those are the liturgies in which we don’t just join our voices “with the Angels, Archangels, and all the company of heaven” but we actually hear their voices.
So, those are some of my wonderings. I’ll bet you have some as well. Let your wonderings take you into the mystery of the night so that in the morning you awaken and declare, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.” Let your wonderings open your eyes to see that the Lord is surely present in this place, and in that place, in any place, and in every place. The angels of God are forever ascending and descending.