SATURDAY READING: The Virtue Of The Angels, by Gabriel Bunge

From Dragon’s Wine and Angel’s Bread: The Teaching of Evagrius Ponticus on Anger and Meekness

The image of man, as presented by Evagrius, would remain one-sided were one only to present it against the dark background of those vices that pervert it, without also showing its luminous, “angelic” dimensions.  Furthermore, hardly anyone could muster the courage and endurance to do battle against a vice such as anger if he did not have an appealing image of real humanness before his eyes – an ideal which perhaps he is not able to develop, but which nevertheless widens the narrow horizon of our Earthly existence.  A good deal has already been mentioned in the preceding chapters, but here we shall attempt to form a synthesis.


Patience: the armor of understanding,
judgment over wrath,
sanatorium of the heart,
exhortation of the insolent,
pacification of the agitated,
storm-free haven,
comfort of the grieved,
kindness toward all.
When slandered, it blesses;
mistreated, it rejoices.
Consolation of the oppressed,
mirror of hoped-for good things,
trophy of the tortured.

The vices are nothing other than the perverted functioning of the soul’s three powers, and this point cannot be repeated often enough.  In order to fight effectively against a vice, one must thus practice the opposing virtue.  In the case of anger, this is forbearance – one of the manifestations of meek love, as Evagrius outlines above.  We have already seen that this meek love is in no way weak.  Among all the virtues, it is the one that grants mankind access to God and his mysteries.

“Make me to know thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths”: Whoever desires to know the “ways of the Lord” must become meek: for it says, “He will teach the meek his ways.”  But the meek are those who have brought to an end the endless struggle of irascibility and desire in the soul, as well as the struggle of the passions caused by these.

That meekness is an “aristocratic virtue,” in the best sense of the term, has already been made clear – according to the witness of scripture, it is a distinguishing mark of the ruling figures of Moses, David, and Christ.  This being the case, Evagrius makes use especially of Moses to sketch the figure of his true “Gnostic,” to whom knowledge of God and his creation was granted on account of his meekness.  David, on the other hand, is the type of one who is “like the angels.”  In both cases, Evagrius naturally proceeds from scripture as he understands it – that is, “intelligibly and spiritually.”  In the preceding pages, Moses was more often the topic of discussion.  Here, we shall turn to this man who is “like the angels”: David.


“When shall I come and behold the face of God?”  If the “angels always behold the face of the Father,” but this one [who prays] desires to behold the face of God, then David consequently desires to become an angel.

Does David thereby desire the impossible?  Not in the least, as Evagrius again culls from scripture.

“The light of thy countenance has shone upon us, Lord”: The angels always behold the face of God, but mankind beholds the light of his countenance.  The face of the Lord is the spiritual contemplation of everything that has come into being on this Earth, while the light of his countenance is a partial knowledge even of these things, if it is true tha] according to the word of the wise woman from Tekoa, David was like an angel of the Lord, perceiving all things on Earth.

David naturally became such an “angel of God” through his great meekness, “for this is the virtue of the angels!”

Kindness and meekness are the cherubim of the soul.

Consequently, ever since the time of the Old Covenant, it has been an established fact that certain people, thanks to their great “purity of heart,” have the ability to attain an “almost angelic state” and, what is more, to become “equal to the angels” through “true prayer.”  This, then, advances them to the level of eating the desired “bread of the angels,” that is, to participate in the God-knowledge of the angels.

“Man ate the bread of angels”: The Redeemer says: “I am the bread which came down from Heaven.”  The angels ate this bread first, but now mankind as well.  “Eating” here means “to recognize,” for the intellect “eats” what it recognizes, and does not “eat” what it does not recognize.

After all that we have heard up to now, it is clear that this “almost angelic condition” consists in “imitating the angelic mode.”  For if man is in himself “like a child that stands between justice and injustice,” neither an angel nor a demon, “until the consummation of the age,” he is, of course, free to share the life of the angels or that of the demons.  If he drinks the forbidden “dragon’s wine” (anger with all its consequences), he becomes a “demon,” a “serpent,” already in this present time.  Yet if he acquires the angelic virtue of meek love, he becomes “like an angel.”  Let us now examine more closely wherein this “angelic resemblance” consists and to whom it is granted.


In the Old Covenant, “some people recognized the reasons of the things on Earth” – for example, Moses and David, as we have already seen.  By contrast, in the New Testament this knowledge is in principle open to all who are baptized, especially those “who have believed in Christ,” and received “the spiritual seal” – that is, that “anointing” of the Holy Spirit, who reveals God’s mysteries to them.  These are the “sons of the Resurrection,” who Christ said would not die and would become “like angels.”

This “angelic resemblance” is an eschatological good, and Evagrius is naturally also aware of this.  However, like all eschatological goods of salvation, this one is already experienced here on Earth by God’s grace – a “guarantee,” so to speak, of the glory to come.  As we have already seen, this experience is made in “true prayer” and especially that “true worship of the Father in spirit and in truth,” which Christ describes as now abolishing the cult of the Old Covenant and every way of worshiping God on account of his coming.  This is so, since an angel stands in close relationship not only to the “beholding of the face of the Father in Heaven,” but also to the prayer “in spirit and in truth.”

The statement in the Apocalypse that speaks of the angel who takes care of putting incense in the bowl that contains the prayer of the saints refers, in my opinion, to precisely this grace wrought by the angel.  He infuses knowledge of true prayer so that for the future the spirit may stand firm, free of all acedia and all negligence.

“That grace” refers back to the preceding chapter where it is said that “when the angel of the Lord visits us, he dispels by his word alone every conflicting force of the demon acting in us, and brings it about that the light of our spirit operates with deception.”  In other words, the “light” of his ability to recognize things is now no longer darkened, but can freely develop.  Here we learn that this recognition aims at “true prayer” and the “worship of the Father in spirit and truth,” that is, in his Holy Spirit and his Only-Begotten Son.

The angel of the Lord is able to meditate such sublime knowledge to us since he not only “knows all things on Earth” and predicts the future (as in the book of Daniel), but also “always beholds the face of the Father in Heaven.”  But through his “true prayer,” man, in his desire to behold this same face, becomes himself “like an angel.”

The next chapter will conclude this thought and will also name the conditions for this exaltation of man.

The phials of perfume are said to be the prayers of the saints, which are offered by the twenty-four elders.  These phials are to be understood as the love of God, or rather as the perfect and spiritual charity in which prayer is offered in spirit and truth.


Angel of the Lord

POETRY: Speak, by Harold J. Recinos


please help 500

 


I sit and hear
about the man
from Guatemala

shot last week
by cops who never
sob about wrong

doing. I see
bony children in
unlit apartments

neglected, abused,
desperately crying
in beaten mothers’

arms. I hear people
talk about martyrs, agony
without end, the death

of the world, the vain
cries everywhere, the
churches unable to see

and hear beyond their
sullen Sabbath. I
dwell on the silence

of God.

PRAYER: Praying With Our Angels For Healing, by Eileen Elias Freeman

From Angelic Healing

Then, if there should be an angel, a mediator, one of a thousand, one who declares a person upright, who is gracious to the person, who prays for that individual. (Job 33:23, 26)


If forgiveness is often the basis of healing, then prayer is its fuel.  Prayer is speaking to God with words, whether aloud or silently, conversing with the loving Source of all we are and have.  And because God is conscious, aware, purposeful, caring, and not some celestial clockmaker, God speaks in reply to our prayers.

Meditation, insofar as it is related to prayer, is the process by which we try to free our minds of words and concepts, so that we can listen with all of our attention to what God says to us, either directly or through our angels.  Some kinds of meditation, particularly those designed to help us focus on our needs, are deliberately self-centered, and this is not necessarily bad; but the meditation side of prayer aims at kenosis, the emptying of the ego, in order to be filled with God’s presence.

Contemplation is active, God-directed prayer without any words or even mental concepts or images, like direct current in contrast to alternating current.  Contemplation, like God’s reply or like the visit of an angel, is a gift independent of our efforts, although we can and should practice the kinds of God-seeking that leave us open to such moments.

Prayer is as simple as any other kind of speech.  The difficulty for us humans is that the other party in our conversation, God, is normally not visible or perceptible to our senses, and there is nothing we can do to change that.  God manifests the divine presence in ways and at times that we cannot control.  As a result, we often stop praying, because God doesn’t respond when or how we expect.

This is a serious mistake.  We have a basic need to seek God; it’s inherent, it’s as necessary to us as breathing and eating.  Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, once said that there is a God-shaped vacuum in the center of every human soul, and that we are driven to fill it up.  Saint Augustine said, long before Pascal, Our hearts are restless, O God, and they cannot rest until they rest in you.

Every people, every society, every culture, seeks God in whatever ways it knows how.  The earliest human literature from ancient Sumeria is about God.  Stone Age burials form Neanderthal times already show evidence of a belief in a world beyond our own.

The problem occurs when a society forgets its spiritual purpose.  For too long, we have worshiped an unholy trinity called, Money, Power, and Prestige.  And we have become steadily impoverished, robbed of power, and humiliated as a result.  Why?  Because what we have given our souls to is no god at all, and our immortal spirit, our soul, cannot be nourished except by God.  We need to recover our priorities if we want to heal our lives.  Our angels know this, because their priorities are as they should be: God before all, and everything in God.

We live on this planet for a short time, and we must do the very best with the talents and gifts we have, but our destiny is not for this world.  When we shed our space suits, that is, our bodies, our immortal spirits enter an eternal realm where our perceptions of God are heightened beyond anything we can even conceive of here on Earth, a realm where we can grow and develop and evolve forever within the love and wisdom of God.  And the way we orient ourselves toward God in this world – as preparation for our eternal future – is through prayer.

All conscious creation prays or speaks to God.  The angels pray to God, just as we do, but because they are spirits and are not weighed down with space suits, their prayer is one of contemplation, unconcerned with words or concepts as we know them.

Prayer is at the heart of every angel’s being.  Long before there was an Earth to protect or humans to be guardians of, the angels existed to reflect joyously back to God the glory of the divine.  In Job 38:4, 7, God asks Job, Where were you when I laid the cornerstone of the Earth, when the morning stars sang together, and all the Heavenly beings shouted for joy?

We pray, alone or with others, for many reasons.  Most of our reasons have angelic counterparts.  The more we can pray not only with the angels but like the angels, the more we understand who we really are and the better we can heal our lives, because we will be in closer contact with the One who is our healer.

There are five basic forms of prayer: adoration, praise, thanksgiving, petition, and repentance.  If those terms sound scary, then think of them as: loving, admiring, thanking, asking, and saying I’m sorry.

Archangel Raphael

Archangel Raphael

Adoration

The most basic form of prayer is adoration.  When we pray in this way, our prayer is most like that of the angels.

Adoration is acknowledging and extolling the basic loving relationship between us and God.  It is understanding that God is God and that we are most assuredly not God.  Adoration is a healing prayer, because it establishes a right relationship between ourselves and the Creator of all; it puts who we are and who God is in their proper perspectives.  It helps us place our footsteps firmly onto the path of reality.  Adoration opens our eyes so we can see ourselves as we really are.  It fills us with light so that anything that is darkness in us can be revealed and healed.

The angels’ most basic prayer is one of adoration.  Every religion makes this clear.  Isaiah’s vision of God included the sight of seraphim, Heavenly beings who cried out, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts!  John’s vision of the same sight of God included the sight of myriads of myriads and thousand of thousands of angels who fell on their faces before the One seated on the throne and worshiped the One who lives forever and ever.

In some ways, adoration is the hardest prayer for us, because it requires that we put our egos totally aside and contemplate only the worthiness of the divine.  (The very word, worship, means, “worth-ship,” i.e., acknowledging the worthiness of God.)  We need to get out of the selfish mode that says each of us is the center of the universe and see with the poet T. S. Eliot that God the Word is the still point of the turning world.

Praise

Praise is the second kind of prayer for both humans and angels.  Praise is only possible when we have come to the point of first adoring God, of establishing an appropriate understanding of who we are in relation to God.  Praise is acknowledging the wonderful qualities of God, like love, wisdom, compassion, power, etc.

Angels praise God because their beings are full of appreciation and love for the divine plan.  They see with great clarity much more of God’s purpose in creating the world and in giving us – we humans and the angels – unending life and consciousness.

Praise can be healing for us, since it draws us out of ourselves and reduces our egoism.  When we give praise to God, obviously we are confessing all of those good and beautiful qualities that are part of the divine.  Just speaking about love, beauty, clarity, peace, patience, knowledge, and other things raises our spirits.  Further, it draws our attention away from ourselves; it tends outward.   But the spiritual energy that we sense when we touch God in this way is a positive force in our lives.  It is one reason why our angels draw us into prayer.  They know that prayer is energizing, and that that kind of energy is healing.

Praise, like adoration, is a kind of prayer that our angels will always join with us in offering to God.  One of the last counsels Raphael offered to Tobias and his family was: Bless God each and every day; sing his praises.  The Psalms, those beautiful and universal prayers, even call upon the angels to laud the Almighty; Psalm 148 sings, Praise the Lord, you his angels; praise him all his host.

Blessing and Thanksgiving

Prayer of thanksgiving is the first kind of prayer that partly includes ourselves.  Praise and adoration are totally fixed on God.  We scarcely enter into the picture.  With thanksgiving, we are speaking to God’s loving grace and working in our lives.  We are grateful for love, concern, help, enlightenment, deliverance, peace, and so much more.

I subtitled this section, Blessing and Thanksgiving, because blessing is a bit different from thanksgiving.  Blessing is a kind of mixture of praise and thanksgiving.  It’s thanksgiving without speaking in terms of something human to be thankful for.  Or one might see it as thanking God, not for something we have received, but for the wonder, love, and beauty of our Source.

I believe that our ability and willingness to speak to God in the prayer of thanksgiving are a barometer of how much healing has been accomplished already in our lives.  After all, healing, whether of physical ills or wounds of the spirit, is something to give thanks to God for.  If we can’t recall having thanked God for healing our lives, then perhaps we need to work on our healing more intensely.

Angels, too, voice their thanksgiving to God.  I hope that doesn’t seem strange to you.  Angels are creatures, as we are, dependent as totally upon the same Source for their lives and their growth as we are.  They give thanks for many of the same things: life, love, purpose, faculties of comprehension and appreciation, the ability to grow.  They bless God for the divine plan, so filled with wisdom and magnificence.

Our angels join their prayer with ours whenever we thank God.  But because thanksgiving is partly an “us”-centered prayer, our prayers of thanksgiving and those of the angels will diverge.  When we say, O God, I bless you for the beauties of the world, our angels join in without a single difference (although their knowledge and appreciation of the beauties of the world will be far more complete than ours are).  But when we pray, O God, I thank you for helping me get through losing my job last year, our angels are going to be praying in a parallel way, not in the same words.  After all, they didn’t lose their jobs last year.  They may say, O God, I thank you for showing me how to help Eileen best learn the wonderful things you have in store for her because of gaining a new job.  I thank you for letting me minister to her your unsearchable healing love.

So our angels will join in with us gladly whenever we speak to God of our thanks for all we have received, but they may more often join in the spirit of our prayer than in the actual sentiments.

Thanksgiving is a very human, very basic sort of thing.  We even have a national celebration, a day whose purpose is to give thanks.  In any language, one of the most quickly learned phrases is, thank you.  So it shouldn’t be difficult for us to use the phrase to God.

We can also say, thank you, to our angels, just as we would thank a human friend for their help, but we say it on a very different level than we do to God.  For example, it would not have been appropriate for me to thank Enniss [guardian angel] for helping me forgive my ex-boss for firing me.  Enniss didn’t do that for me; it was the grace of God, a loving Parent giving me enlightenment, that enabled me to do that.  When I was able to forgive, I thanked God for the gift, for the wisdom, for the insights.  But on another level I thanked Enniss, too, because without his counsel, his advice, his quiet whisperings in my soul, I might well have missed God’s healing grace.  I might have clung to resentment and not opened my soul to peace.

All of us have grown up with the notion of counting our blessings in times of trouble.  Just numbering our blessings, however, only keeps us centered in our own egos, and we learn nothing.  It’s when we thank the Source of all blessings, when we go outside our own egos, that we can grow whole, that we can heal.  After all, we’re not misers or people for whom life is a matter of quantity rather than quality.

One of the healing things I believe our angels do for us all the time is to remind us how blessed each of us is.  Our Heavenly guardians are always telling us of the good things, the whole things, that are part of us.  They work to counteract the negativity all around us, sometimes even in our own hearts.  The fact is that there are fallen angels, poor, sad beings whose whole lives are lived in darkness, sick with a terminal illness of their fundamental spirit, and their very presence can infect us with their depressing, evil, destructive miasma unless we listen to our angels instead, who only want our health.

Asking God: Petition and Intercession

There are two forms of addressing our requests to God: petition and intercession.  Petition comes from the Latin word meaning, request.  When we ask God for “things,” whether small or great, we are petitioning.

Intercession is praying to God on behalf of another person, holding them in our arms and lifting them to God.  It’s a very energizing, and often draining, form of prayer.  In fact, the very meaning of the word implies being right in the middle of things.  It’s far more other-oriented than mere petition.  Both have their place in our lives.

Our requests to God run the gamut of everything we can comprehend.  And it’s right for us to ask God for whatever we need and want.  Doing so can be healing to our often inflated egos, because it forces us in a gentle way to remember that we are not God, that all we are and have comes from God.  Of course we have to develop the proper attitude when we pray for something or for someone.  God is not a fairy godmother who turns pumpkins into coaches at our request.  We can’t make demands on God, or treat God like a divination tool.  There’s no magic formula for making God agree to what we would like to have happen.  God is God, that is to say, totally sovereign.

But given that this is so, it is also true that God knows everything, including our needs, even before we ask.  The Biblical psalmist once said, O God, you have searched me and you know me.  You know when I go out, and when I go in.  Before a word is on my tongue, you know it already.  Because God knows everything, God is not capricious.  God will always grant our needs.

God will not, however, always grant our wants.  So if we ask for something we feel we need, and we don’t receive it, it surely means that either it wasn’t a need in the first place, or that it is a need, but not now.

Intercessory prayer is less self-centered than other kinds of petition, because the object of our prayers is not ourselves but someone else.  When we pray for someone’s good, because of our love for them, then many unseen wounds of spirit are healed within us, even without our knowing it.  I have always felt that when we intercede for others, there is a special energy of healing that rests upon us as well.  Going out of our egos to feel another’s need and offer it to God helps restore the balance of creation.

Of course we can always be hit by the “ego through the back door” trick, where we think we’re praying out of sheer goodwill for someone, let’s say, to stop smoking.  Suddenly we realize that we’re not so much concerned for the other person’s healing; rather, we just want to stop the drain on the household budget that cigarettes cause, or the smell of smoke that we can’t get out of the rug.

Thank God for our angels’ prayers for us!  Angels’ prayers of asking and petition are fundamentally different from ours.  For one thing, they don’t ask for things for themselves.  Petition, per se, is not a quality of angelic prayer.  They are totally centered in the divine; for that reason they have perfect confidence that they already have whatever they need.  The things we pray most often about – life, health, finances, etc. – are personally meaningless to angels.  Their life is eternal, health is not an issue, and money is totally irrelevant.

Angels act as intercessors for us all the time.  Of course God’s loving care is not dependent on whether we have powerful patrons in high places!  But as intercessors, angels have no peer in the realm of the created universe.  Our guardian angels are always interceding, putting themselves right in the middle on our behalf.  The Biblical Job, whose concern was to have his angel act as an intercessor with a God whose actions he could not understand, said to his friends, Even now my witness is in Heaven, and he who vouches for me is on high, the interpreter of my thoughts to God, unto whom my eye drips.  We, too, have angels who act as intercessors, always speaking of us before the face of God.

Repentance

Repentance is an old-fashioned word, but then again, so is angel, so is human.  It refers to the way we acknowledge before God things we have done that are not a part of the divine plan.  It also includes our realizing that we have left undone good things that we should have accomplished.  Repentance means that we see the evil in our lives and turn away from it – and tell God so.  When our prayer is a prayer of repentance, we accept the responsibility for evil we have done or good we have failed to do, and we tell God we are sorry and hope to do better.  Repentance is a necessary part of our prayer, because not one of us is perfect.

Repentance is the one form of prayer the angels do not know how to pray.  Not a single angel who serves God needs to repent of anything, because all of them live in perfect harmony with God’s plan for creation.

The prayer of repentance is not a matter of craven fear in the sight of God, like a fearful child who has broken the cookie jar.  It is not wounded ego kicking us around the block, saying, How could I have been so stupid as to drink and drive?  Rather, it is the loving trust of a child in the parent, even when the child has done something the parent has said not to do.  There is no fear of punishment in repentance, only faith in the God who heals.  If we want to heal our lives, we must learn to accept the responsibility for the evil we do and the good we leave undone.

If you still see God as the patriarchal hurler of thunderbolts who spies on your every fault in order to exact every bit of punishment, then I suggest you ask your angel to help you pray in a more confident fashion.  The apostle John, who walked with Jesus, and who had one of the most extraordinary out-of-body experiences in history, observed, There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

In working with the angels of God, I have learned to believe this: we never pray alone.  It may be late at night, and we may feel as alone and isolated as a flag atop Mount Everest, but we are not.  Whenever we pray, our angels pray with us, adding their assent to our words of worship or praise or blessing, and adding their own thoughts to ours when we give thanks or ask for help and rejoicing whenever we turn from the darkness to the light.  We are never closer to our angels than when we pray to God.  And in the quiet time that follows a period of prayer, our hearts are especially free of dark influences and especially open to the angels of love and light that God sends to us.  We can hear what they say to our hearts more clearly than at any other time.

When we pray together, we have the added force of many angels joining with us.  This can be an especially powerful way to focus on our need for healing.  But remember this: whether you pray by yourself or with others, you are surrounded, as Saint Paul says, by a great cloud of witnesses, who share their love and joy with you.

What more perfect climate could we ask for as we work to heal our lives?

ANGELS: Healing, Truth, And Jesus by Susan R. Garrett

From No Ordinary Angel

The angel of the Lord and the angel Raphael are preeminent among the Biblical figures who heal blindness and set people on a new and better course.  But they are not the only ones who do so.  In the New Testament, it is Jesus who commands our attention as healer and source of truth.  Jesus represents both God’s presence or immanence and the fullness of God’s transcendent glory.  Luke tells us that Jesus spoke words of the prophet Isaiah to announce the shape of the mission he was about to undertake: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Luke is careful to show how Jesus fulfilled his mandate literally, releasing those who were physically bound and healing those who were physically blind.  But Jesus’s words as reported by Luke overflow this literal meaning.  Each item in the mandate points beyond any particular instance of meaning.  Each item in the mandate points beyond any particular instance of literal, physical fulfillment to the radically new and transforming character of encountering Jesus.  An encounter with him brings change as radical as freedom to captives, as astonishing as sight to the blind.

Among the New Testament healing stories, Mark’s account of Jesus’s two-stage healing of the blind man at Bethsaida is especially rich in its symbolism.  Jesus lays hands on the man, but at first he sees only indistinctly.  He says, I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.  So Jesus touches him again, And he looked intently and his sight was restored.  The story foreshadows Peter’s progress – or, rather his lack of progress – in understanding.  A few verses later, Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ, but then rebels when Jesus predicts his own death.  Like the blind man after Jesus’s first touch, Peter sees – but not yet clearly.  He still does not comprehend that Jesus is to be a suffering Messiah.  Not until after Jesus’s death and resurrection will Peter receive the second touch, the one that will give him full sight.  In the meantime, Jesus says, Peter is setting his mind not on divine things but on human things.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus sometimes operates in angelic ways.  For example, Crispin Fletcher-Louis shows how in Luke’s story of the call of Peter and the miraculous catch of fish, Jesus is portrayed much like an angel.  Peter had been working all night and had caught no fish, but when Jesus told him to put out the nets into the deep water Peter obediently did so and caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.  When Peter saw this, he fell down at Jesus’s knees saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  Fletcher-Louis points out that Jesus’s instruction about where to find what Peter is seeking, Peter’s awe, his sense of shame before Jesus, and Jesus’s words of assurance (Fear not) are all best explained by analogy to Biblical stories of angels.

Or, consider Luke’s story of the Transfiguration, when the eyes of three disciples are opened to glimpse Jesus in his Heavenly glory.  Some ancient Jews believed that all the righteous will be made like angels at the end time.  Accordingly, many recent commentators have said that the Transfiguration accounts are designed to help the disciples – and us as readers – anticipate such end-time glory.  But Fletcher-Louis argues that the more relevant background material may be found in Jewish stories about Heavenly angels, or in stories about a few ultra-righteous persons who become angels before the end time.  The Transfiguration reminds Fletcher-Louis of the description of God’s principal angel found in Daniel 10, the transformation of Enoch to an angel as reported in noncanonical documents, and the coming of the angelic Son of Man on the clouds of Heaven as described in Daniel 7, and alluded to elsewhere in the New Testament.

Luke’s account of the road to Emmaus has also been influenced by earlier accounts of angels.  As the two disciples were walking along the road, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  Jesus and the disciples conversed.  Afterward, when he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.  John E. Alsup notes the extent to which scriptural narratives such as the appearance of the angels to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre in Genesis 18–19 and the account of Raphael as Tobias’s traveling companion in Tobit 5–12 stand behind this story of the Emmaus road.  In Tobit, for example, Raphael acts incognito, as Jesus will on the Emmaus road.  After Raphael reveals his identity, he ascends to Heaven and they could see him no more.  Compare this with Luke’s account of Jesus’s ascension Acts 1:9.  In the Genesis story of Abraham, Heavenly beings allegedly on a journey are entertained by mortals who seem unaware of their guests’ identity.  But even more than such narrative details, it is the central event in the account of the Emmaus road – Jesus’s healing of blindness – that evokes Biblical stories of angels.  Jesus, like the angel of the Lord in the story of Balaam and elsewhere, dissolves the old, accustomed way of looking at things.  Once the disciples’ eyes have been opened they will never see the same way again.

Jesus’s greatest healing is that of Saul, the Pharisee – later known as the Apostle Paul.  Saul has been ferociously pursuing Christians and dragging them to prison.  He is convinced that the new Christian movement, called “the Way,” runs counter to the purposes of God.  But when Saul is traveling on the road to Damascus, a bright light from Heaven flashes around him and he falls to the ground.  He hears a voice say to him,

I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.  But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you.  I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles – to whom I am sending you to to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light. (Acts 26:15–18)

When Saul rises, he can see nothing.  Others have to lead him by the hand.  For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.  Before healing Saul, Jesus must first show him how blind he really is!  Three days later a disciple lays hands upon Saul and something like scales fall from his eyes.  Saul’s eyes then open onto a new world – a world where he knows Jesus as Lord and himself as Jesus’s servant.  Like Balaam, Saul has been given a new perception of reality; the old perception fell along with the scales.  The “Way” that he once rejected has become the path before him.

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul writes about how coming to know Jesus has changed his life.  After listing out all his qualifications and accomplishments in Judaism he writes, Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.  More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as dung, in order that I may gain Christ.  By his own account, Paul had been zealous but moving in the wrong direction.  Jesus turned him around and set him on the path toward a new goal, the goal for the prize of the Heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.  Paul’s ideas about what mattered in life changed.  Dung or filth – those are the strong words he now uses to describe what he once regarded as his great successes in life.  Today it still takes the strongest words we can find to describe how Christ can transform us.  We struggle to find images that are up to the task.  Luke spoke of blindness healed and bonds broken.  The author of John’s Gospel spoke of second birth.  Today, David Ford speaks of a shift in the boundaries of our being.

The Jesus who transformed the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who transformed Saul to Paul, and who transforms us is the crucified Jesus.  Here is the greatest difference between Jesus and the angels.  For angels, not being of flesh, do not know the weaknesses of flesh.  But Jesus – though he lives – is always, first, the Human One.  Fletcher-Louis shows how, in the Emmaus road story, Luke counters his own angelomorphic portrayal of Jesus by insisting that he ate a piece of fish.  It was axiomatic in Jewish antiquity that angels do not eat – or at least they do not eat Earthly food.  By showing Jesus eating, Luke makes the point that his identity cannot be reduced to that of an angel: he is divine like the angels, but he is also human.  His experience as a human epitomizes the trials that humans must endure.  Jesus is the one who knows in his own person not only what it means to be hungry, but also what it means to be mocked, falsely accused, beaten, betrayed, and utterly forsaken.  He is the one who knows what it means to have his faith and obedience tested to the utmost.  Because he has lived through such trials, Jesus understands our trails in a way that no ordinary angel ever could.  But he does not offer us an easy way out of such trials – only a way through them.

The self-help angels say: Be specific and ask big.  But Jesus says of Paul: I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.  To us Jesus says: Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  When we take up the cross we commit everything we have and are to the quest for God and God’s righteousness.  The self-help angels serve individual wants and desires, and make no demands.  They urge us to ask for their aid in getting what we think we require.  But the crucified and risen Jesus heals us by reordering our desires.  He brings to the surface the desire that lives beneath all desires and that only God can satisfy.  This one desire, which overwhelms all others, is the desire for God – what Paul calls, the Heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.  Christ fills our mind and heart with this desire until every other desire pales by comparison.  Jesus said, The kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.  So too we who would follow Jesus sell all that we have.  We exercise control over what we own.  When we sell all, we relinquish that control.  We say, Jesus, this property, this family, this career, this life are no longer mine.  They are yours.  And we have made a good exchange.  We have purchased the pearl of great price.

David Ford writes of the longing in our day for something magical, the quick fix, the miraculous touch or medicine, the dramatic release.  Occasionally that kind of miracle does happen.  Certainly many of the recent angelic interventions reported in the media qualify as miraculous, quick-fix solutions.  Ford notes that Jesus, too, gave quick-fix help by healing people and feeding them.  But the thrust of his teaching, Ford writes, was to get at the roots of evil and suffering, and his message of the kingdom of God was about a healing that involved love, trust, compassion, forgiveness, and radically inclusive hospitality.  He faced the fact that that sort of healing can only be offered by those who embody it, whatever the cost.  Jesus embodied such healing in his own life and death – a death that Ford calls the healing exchange at the heart of Christian faith and worship.  As Jesus’s disciples we are called to follow him, to live and die like him, and so to become like him the balm for all wounds.  Mysteriously, our own healing begins when we commit to living our lives for him so that others might be healed.

Road to Emmaus

Road to Emmaus

POETRY: Crivelli’s Pietà Angel, by Katherine Soniat

Angel From Pietà by Crivelli

Angel From Pietà by Crivelli


In life it was just another spring
plunging with trees and noon-dark weather.
Things went on from there,
betrayal aside.
But this angel’s sopped eyes are beyond
consolation, stopped with a brokenness
the living feel about the dead.
And Crivelli must have known it,
with each gray, each plum daub to the sockets.

Somewhere this angel must have
a furious double, red eyes rolling
from so much wandering and confusion
in the desert before they settled
into a sadness like winter—
all there is.

Long ago I watched birds arc
back and forth over iron tracks
outside a city, and departing that life,
I could not see my hesitation as natural
the jerking toward change and death
the charm of all that is natural.

This angel needs to flee
his canvas for a damp cave
where the hurt will not be indelible.
As he flutters into the next
day, his eyes will clear
and open fully.

POETRY: The Fear Of Angels, by May Sarton

It is not what they intend,
But we are light-struck,
Blinded by their presence,
When all they want is to see us.

We have to turn away,
Cannot look at the huge, deep Unknown
That speaks through their eyes.
They strip us down to the infant gaze
Still deep in the sky,
Still rooted somewhere we cannot remember.

Angel, look away.
I cannot afford to yield the last defense,
To go back—

“Not back, but deeper,”
Said the angel, folding his wings
To wait.

Pietro Perugino, God the Father and Angels, Sistine Chapel

Pietro Perugino, God the Father and Angels, Sistine Chapel

ANGELS: Healing Powers, by Sylvia Browne

From Sylvia Browne’s Book of Angels

The vibrations and tonal qualities of the Cherubim and Seraphim’s music are more than just beautiful and inspiring; they can also be used for healing.  Although these joyous singers rarely leave the Hall of Voices on the Other Side, it’s only because they’re not called upon like the other more active phyla.  However, Francine says that if we call them, they will come, and she has often witnessed the healing effects of their music.

Angels automatically know which vibrational level a person needs for healing, and the “Heavenly choir” wings in that vibration zone and can help immensely with the healing process.  The vibration and tones of their music seem to have a healing effect on the electrical makeup of the human body.  Francine also notes that when Cherubim and Seraphim sing in the course of the healing process, they spiral up into the air to the point of looking like dots.  This fascinating spiraling effect emulates our own DNA, with the music permeating each and every one of our cells.

Cherie from Washington writes:

About 20 years ago, I experienced something that I’ll never, ever forget.  I was around 19 or 20 years old, and I remember being very depressed, hopelessly depressed – not over a boyfriend or anything like that, just this deep depression I’d experienced before, even as a baby.  It was around 10:15 PM or so when I was lying in my bedroom and heard this sound.  The best way I can explain it is like chanting, but not a song, and I remember the music.  It’s something I’d never heard before.  It was so eerie, to be honest, that it scared me to death.  My dad was crippled, and he slept very lightly, if at all, at night, so I was anticipating him getting up to investigate; which, I might add, he’d done before on numerous occasions when there was something out of the ordinary.  This night he didn’t, so I just laid there, and it went on for a good 20 minutes, or so it seemed.

The next morning, we were eating breakfast and I asked him what that sound was last night.  He had no idea what I was talking about, and he claimed he was awake.  So I investigated it (mind you, during daylight hours).  I tromped around in the woods for a while (I just knew it was devil worshipers or a cult thing), and I remember thinking, “How brazen of them, so close to our house in the country.  Couldn’t they find other places to go?”  But as I looked around, no fire pits for their sacrifices, no nothing… just woods and brush.  That sound was right outside my bedroom window, as if they were camped right there!

So I talked myself into dismissing it, although I couldn’t get it out of my head.  The next night rolled around.  I was reading, still under this never-ending gloomy cloud, and I started to hear this chanting, for lack of a better word.  I looked at the clock, and it was at the exact same time as the night before.  I was so scared that I got mad, turned out my lamp, and opened the shutters to my bedroom window, thinking I would catch them… but nothing – no fire, no light of any kind.  I opened the window, and this sound wasn’t outside either, it was all around me!  I climbed back into bed and started to listen, and the most peaceful feeling came over me.  I was in tears.  There are no words to describe the sound I was hearing – music, but with musical instruments I had never heard before and knew didn’t exist here on Earth.  So I just tried to absorb all of it.  It was absolutely beautiful, and then it quit.  I again looked at the clock, and it ended at exactly the same time as the previous night.

Night number three, I waited, praying to God for it to come, and it did, same time, same place.  This time I just totally savored every second of every minute.  The most beautiful voices I’d ever heard – not even Charlotte Church could hold a candle to this – no one here could.  Sadly, the story ends here.  No number four.  What was it?  Were they angels singing to me?  I’ve never heard them again and have been in that deep despair many times since.

Cherie’s letter is definitely a story of the Heavenly choir of the Cherubim and Seraphim singing.  Their music is like no other, and to hear their sound is indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Although most angelic healing is done by Archangels (with their batons) and Powers (with their wings), there have been instances when the Cherubim and Seraphim helped them by using vibratory singing.  This is especially true in terminal illness cases.

To call upon the Cherubim and Seraphim for help in our own lives, we can use the following meditation.

Meditation for Healing and Rejuvenation

Put yourself in a relaxed position, either sitting or lying down.  Close your eyes.  Relax your feet, your ankles, your calves, your knees, your thighs, and your buttocks area.  Relax your body up through your trunk, arms, fingers, neck, and head.

Surround yourself with a multicolored light, reflecting iridescent white, green, blue, and coral.  Make these colors swirl around you.  Now take yourself to a beautiful Romanesque building, cathedral-like in its appearance and filled with high marble pillars and shimmering lighted candles that dance and sparkle everywhere.  At first you may feel very small, but as you proceed down the aisle of this beautiful place, you feel your strength of body, mind, and soul becoming stronger.  Right before you reach what looks like a tiered altar, you see these beautiful angels.  Their wings are glowing, their faces shine, and they are all looking at you with love, compassion, and understanding.

As you stand there filled with boundless love, you begin to hear music.  It is not only outside of you, but resonating on the inside.  It is as if every cell is filled with glorious sound.  The music is not loud but pulsating, healing, and orgasmic.  You feel so full of the love of God and this Heavenly choir.  Stand there for as long as you want, and let this blessed sound fill your soul.  Then slowly back out, carrying with you the song of the angels.

Go to your cathedral as many times as you wish.  Each time you’ll feel more healed and more rejuvenated.

Angel musicians

MINISTERING SPIRITS: Raphael The Healer, by David Albert Jones

From Angels

The story of the Archangel Raphael is told in the book of Tobit.  The book tells the story of a man called Tobit who is an Israelite of the tribe of Naphtali, but who lives in exile.  He is an upright man and risks his life to give a proper burial to bodies of Israelites who have been killed.  One evening, because it is so hot, he sleeps outside with his face uncovered and is blinded by sparrows’ droppings falling into his eyes.

I went to the physicians to be healed but the more they treated me with ointments the more my vision was obscured by the white films, until I became completely blind.

 Meanwhile, in a town some distance away, a relative called Sarah is afflicted by a demon.  She had been married to seven husbands, and the wicked demon Asmodeus had killed each of them before they had been with her.

Tobit and Sarah both pray, and God sends an angel to help them.  Tobit’s son Tobias sets off, as he thinks, to collect some money from a distant relative, but he is destined to meet Sarah and fall in love and marry her.  The angel, Raphael, accompanies Tobias in the guise of a fellow traveler.  Tobias’s dog also comes along.  On the way they catch an enormous fish.  Later Raphael uses the liver and heart of the fish as incense to drive the demon away and the gall of the fish as ointment to heal Tobit’s blindness.

And Raphael was sent to heal both of them: Tobit, by removing the white films from his eyes, so that he might see God’s light with his eyes; and Sarah the daughter of Raguel, by giving her in marriage to Tobias, the son of Tobit, and by setting her free from the wicked demon, Asmodeus.

The name, Raphael, means “God heals.”

It is easy to see why this tale was not included in some Bibles.  Though it has a historical setting, it is really a romance.  It has more in common with the colorful folklore of the Arabic, Book of One Thousand and One Nights, than with the much more restrained Biblical encounter between Abraham and the angels.  Nevertheless, in spite of this, or perhaps because of this, this book has remained popular and was included in the Septuagint translation of the Bible.  It finds a place in Roman Catholic, Greek, and Slavonic Bibles, and in the appendix to some Protestant Bibles (the part called the “apocrypha”).  The prayer of Tobias and Sarah before they get married is still a common reading at Roman Catholic wedding ceremonies.  The book of Tobit is only a dozen pages or so and is full of charming detail.  It is a book of the Bible that does not take itself very seriously and is well worth a read.

The image of Raphael and Tobias has been a popular one among artists.  Typically Raphael is shown with wings and a halo, next to him is a short and youthful Tobias, who is carrying the fish.  Running next to them is a small dog, not a hunting dog but obviously a pet.  The three figures are on a journey with a purpose, but a purpose of which Tobias is as yet unaware.  It is an image of pilgrimage, of life as a journey, and an image of providence or protection.  These themes retain their appeal, and the story has been retold in Salley Vicker’s engaging novel, Miss Garnet’s Angel, which interweaves the ancient romance with a modern fable set in Venice.

Within Orthodox Judaism, the book of Tobit is not regarded as sacred scripture.  However, the angel Raphael is named in the Talmud, together with Gabriel and Michael, as one of the angels who came to visit Abraham.  Raphael is popular in the Jewish tradition as an angel of healing and was sometimes named on protective amulets, themselves associated with healing and with magic.  For most of Jewish history such amulets were a common feature of Judaism, and Jewish amulets were also used by Christians.  However, contemporary Judaism follows the more sober opinion of Moses Maimonides that amulets are a form of superstition and have neither religious nor medical value.

Raphael (Israfil) is also know in Islam.  The name does not occur in the Quran itself but occurs in a Hadith.  In Islam, Israfil is not associated with healing but is the angel who will blow his horn to signal the end of the world and the day of judgment.  This is quite close to the role that Christianity gives to the Archangel Michael.

The feast of Raphael is celebrated together with that of Michael and the other angels on September 29th among Roman Catholics and Anglicans, and on November 8th among Eastern Orthodox Christians.  Raphael is patron of the sick, especially those with eye problems or mental illness (those “plagued by demons”), and is patron of those who heal the sick, especially pharmacists and apothecaries.  He is also patron of lovers and of happy meetings.  Raphael is the angel most associated with serendipity.

Archangel Raphael with Tobias and dog

Archangel Raphael with Tobias and dog

ARCHANGELS: Raphael, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley

From Encyclopedia of Angel

Raphael is one of the principal angels in Judeo-Christian angelologies, accorded the rank of archangel.  Raphael’s name originates from the Hebrew, rapha, which means healer or doctor, thus Raphael is “the shining one who heals”; also, “the medicine of God.”  Often he is connected with the symbol of healing, the serpent.  He is entrusted with the physical well-being of the Earth and its human inhabitants, and is said to be the friendliest of the angels.

Raphael is not mentioned by name in the Protestant Bible, but he does play a prominent role in the book of Tobit, part of the Roman Catholic, but not part of the Hebrew, canon.  There, Raphael teaches the arts both of healing and of exorcism.  He acts as a guide and companion on a journey, thus making him the angel of travel and safety.

Raphael has numerous titles and duties.  He is counted among the seven angels who stand before God mentioned in Revelation, and is part of four orders of angels: seraphim, cherubim, dominions, and powers.  He is the angel of the evening winds, guardian of the Tree of Life, and the angel of prayer, peace, joy, light, and love.

In kabbalistic lore, Raphael is charged with healing the Earth.  He is one of the ten sephiroth of the Tree of Life.  He is believed to be one of the three angels who visit Abraham, though he is not named as such in Genesis.  He is credited with healing Abraham of the pain of his circumcision, and Jacob of his wounded thigh due to the fight with the dark adversary.

According to several rabbinic sources, a pearl hung on Noah’s ark which indicated when day and night were at hand.  Some say this light came from a sacred book Noah was given by the Archangel Raphael, bound in sapphires and containing all knowledge of the stars, the art of healing, and the mastery of demons.  Noah bequeathed this to Shem, who passed it to Abraham.  It went on through to Jacob, Levi, Moses, Joshua, and Solomon.

The presence of this book of wisdom in the early Babylonian myth of the flood strengthens the view, according to some scholars, that Enoch, whom the angels helped to write a book of wisdom, was really Noah, and references to Raphael perhaps really were references to Raziel, the angel who is keeper of the cosmic book of secrets.

The apocryphal Book of Enoch terms Raphael one of the “watchers,” and a guide to the underworld.

Roman Catholic devotional lore contains numerous stories about the deeds of Raphael.  Saint Cyriaca (also called, Dominica), who was martyred under the emperor Maxmilian in the fourth century, was addressed by Raphael during her tortures.  The angel, identifying himself by name, said that he had heard her prayers and congratulated her on her courage.  Because of her suffering, she would glorify the Lord.  Sister Mary Francis of the Third Order of St. Francis, who lived during the last eighteenth century, was frequently ill.  She was told on one occasion by the angel that he would heal her – and he did.  She and others were witnesses to a smell of sweet perfume, which she attributed to the presence of Raphael.  The angel also is credited with healing others of various afflictions, including epilepsy, and of providing protection during journeys.

Raphael’s feast day is October 24.

Rudolph Steiner associated Raphael with the “Easter imagination.”  Steiner’s spiritual practice blended the senses, imagination, inspiration, and intuition, and used imaging, poetry, and all the arts to express his teachings.  He gave a series of lectures in October 1923 on the four seasons and the archangels that illustrates his method beautifully.  The following details about Raphael are interwoven with the cosmic and natural processes indicated by the change of seasons.

Easter celebrates the death and resurrection of the Redeemer, and the figure of Raphael comes before us in dramatic guise as the Physician, Magician, and Hermes-like mediator who arouses in us the rightful approach, through reverence and worship, to what the Easter imagination is.

In spring Raphael is found up above with his deeply thoughtful gaze, with his staff of Mercury, which now in the airy heights has become something like a fiery serpent, a serpent of shining fire, no longer resting on the Earth, but as though held forth, using the forces of the air, mingling and combining fire, water, and Earth so as to transmute them into healing forces, working and weaving in the cosmos.  In autumn Raphael brings to humans the healing forces which he has first kindled in the cosmos.  Raphael, with deep wisdom in his gaze, leans on the staff of Mercury, supported by the inner forces of Earth.

Tobias and the Angel by Verrocchio

Tobias and the Angel by Verrocchio

PRAYER: Novena To Raphael, The Archangel

From 30 Favorite Novenas

Glorious Archangel Raphael, great prince of the Heavenly court, you are illustrious for your gifts of wisdom and grace.

You are a guide to those who journey by land or sea or air, consoler of the afflicted, and refuge of sinners.

I beg you, assist me in all my needs and in all the sufferings of this life, as once you helped the young Tobias on his travels.

Because you are the “medicine of God,” I humbly pray you to heal the many infirmities of my soul and the ills that afflict my body.

I especially ask of you the favor (STATE REQUEST) and the great grace of purity to prepare me to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Archangel Raphael, of the glorious seven who stand
Before the throne of him who lives and reigns,
Angel of health, the Lord has filled your hand
With balm from Heaven to soothe or cure our pains.
Heal or cure the victim of diseases,
And guide our steps when doubtful of our ways.

archangel-raphael-2-4

 

SERMON: Men In White, by Graeme Hotter

The other day I was listening to the radio in my car and heard an interview with a lady called Genelle Guzman-McMillan who was the last survivor pulled from one of the twin tower buildings. She had written a book that is called Angel in the Rubble which is all about the 27 hours she spent pinned under the tangled mess of steel and concrete. She wasn’t a Christian before the terrible event but she became one because of it. While trapped in the darkness she cried out to God time and time again. Just before the rescue crew got to her, a man came to her through the hole that her hand was stretched out in and said his name was Paul. He comforted her and placed his hands around her one outstretched hand that was free. When the rescue crew finally pulled her out she asked about this man called Paul but no one knew of anyone by that name. She believes that it was an angel. He had no gloves on which all the fire crew were wearing and was there before they got to her.

The Bible says that angels can come to us as men and this kind of story is not unusual.

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)


Mark Buntain was a missionary in India. He built an orphanage and a church, and needed a hospital in Calcutta. But tragedy struck the region. Torrents of rain came down, forcing the government to evacuate much of the city. Mark reluctantly boarded the evacuation plane. Questions whirled through his mind, Will this flood wipe out all of his work for the poor? He felt dejected. He did the only thing he knew to do – which was to pray. A man sat next to him on the plane, and began to encourage Mark. He told him that everything was going to be all right. He even outlined several steps that Mark could implement that would make his ministry even more effective. After talking with this man, Mark was greatly encouraged. The stewardess came by and asked Mark what he would like to drink. Mark gave his order and then turned to see what the man would order, but to his amazement, the man was gone. He vanished! Mark searched all over the small plane looking for the man, but he was not in there. Mark realized he had been visited by an angel.

When Bernice and I were in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe during the Bush war there were many occasions when people said that angels came to their aid. A pastor in our church was coming back alone from a conference in South Africa during the war. He was really feeling tired and needed to stop but feared that he would be attacked by terrorists if he did, being in such a remote area. He decided to battle on through the night, but was falling asleep. After nearly hitting a bridge he saw a huge angel standing in the middle of the road in front of him. He stopped the car and the angel touched the top of his head twice and then disappeared. It was as if a supernatural strength had entered into his body, and he was now wide awake. He was sure that if he were to hit the side of the car door with his fist it would have flown off its hinges onto the road. When he got home to Gweru he decided to go to sleep, but couldn’t, so he stayed awake and then through to the next day. He tried to sleep the next night too but couldn’t. He wondered what would have happened if the angel had touched him on the head five times.

On another occasion I heard of an elderly Christian farming couple in a very remote area. Terrorists were all around and were attacking farmhouses at night. This couple were in contact with the other farmers by radio, and had been warned that the terrorists were on their way towards them. The Christian couple prayed that night for God’s protection, and, with God’s help, made it through until dawn. The next morning these terrorists were caught, and on questioning them, the armed forces found that they had come to this particular couple’s house, but had decided to turn away. The terrorists said that they didn’t attack this house because there were many strong men all around it clothed in shining white armor. God had sent his God Squad: The Angels.

There is a whole unseen world out there that contains thousands upon thousands of angels. They are here for our protection and guidance.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. (Psalm 91:11)

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (Psalm 34:11)

See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in Heaven always see the face of my Father in Heaven. (Matthew 18:10)

I have a couple of views that I believe can encourage the presence of angels in our lives. In the Old Testament people actually saw angels and spoke to them. In these days it’s more a walk of faith for most of us mortals. One scripture comes to mind that backs this view up.

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. (John 20:29)

Our walk in this dispensation is more of a walk of faith, and God is asking us to believe what he says in the word. He says all these things about angels and wants us to believe it even if we can’t see them most of the time. In the Old Testament people spoke to angels, and I also do this personally, asking them to do things for me as well. Jesus said that there was an angel for each church in Asia Minor. If this was so then there must be an angel for our church here in Eltham. To the angel of the church in Ephesus write. (Revelation 2:1)

If I am praying for someone in New Plymouth, I often ask the angel of the church in that city to dispatch help to the person who is in need. I believe that Jesus loves the whole principle of delegation and wants us to involve others in the ministry and that includes angels.

I can’t see anything wrong with asking angels to come to our aid. That’s what they are there for. Jesus is called Captain of the Host (Angels). Jesus gave the church the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.

He said:

Whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven. (Matthew 18:8)

Most of us have heard this scripture used to bind the devil and demons. The Bible does tell us that we can bind the strong man, and that a mighty angel will bind the devil for a thousand years. The word, bind, is a term to describe our power to tie up Satan. However, Jesus also said that we have the power to loose. And what do we loose? Certainly, not Satan. Then who? It’s angels of course.

A voice said, Loose the four angels which are bound. And the four angels were loosed.” (Revelation 9:14-15)

You can readily see that angels are meant to be loosed. And who has the power to loose angels? Jesus said that we do. We have the keys of the Kingdom! You might ask the question, How do we loose Angels? There are interesting scriptures in the Psalms and also in Hebrews concerning this.

Bless the Lord, you his angels, who excel in strength, who do his word, heeding the voice of his word. (Psalm 103:20)

Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)

We see here that angels are given to minister for us and they also hearken to the word of God. We are God’s mouthpiece here on Earth so it is important for us to speak the word of God as much as we can for angels obey that word. As we speak forth what God has to say about a situation then it invokes angelic help. It says angels hearken or heed the voice of God, which means to listen and act upon. We are the ones who are to speak out and be the voice for the Bible here on Earth. We can loose God’s angels and also bind them by speaking negative words like: Nothing ever works out for me, or,  If I didn’t have such bad luck. Can it also be that fallen angels (called demons) are hanging around, waiting to respond to the negative words that we speak?

If angels hearken to the words of God and we aren’t speaking out his word in faith, then we have a lot of unemployed angels hanging around.

Jesus said:

Whoever shall confess me before men, him shall the son of man also confess before the angels of God. (Luke 12:8)

Jesus declares to the angels what we declare. When we confess that Jesus is our Lord, Jesus confesses to the angels that he is our Lord. Angels are aware of what we confess here on Earth. Jesus echos our words to the angels, and, depending on what we say, they bring to pass our words.

One of the believer’s favorite Psalm says:

If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the Lord, who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” (91:9-12)

God promises complete protection for the person who makes the Most High his dwelling. The secret to tapping into the power of this Psalm is to make the Most High your dwelling. That is the key. God promises protection, so long as you make the Most High your dwelling.

So how do you make God your dwelling? The answer is at the beginning of this Psalm.

It says:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord: “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

You make the Most High your dwelling the same way that David did – by saying of the Lord that he is your dwelling! Your confession that he is your refuge and fortress is what makes God become your refuge and fortress. And what does God do when you confess that he is your refuge and fortress? He commands his angels to guard you in all your ways so that no harm befalls you nor any disaster overtake you. Angels work for you because you confess who God is to you and what he will do for you.

Here is one final verse I want to share with you that will prove that angels are greatly affected by our words.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (Psalm 34:7)

The Angel of the Lord delivers those who fear God, not who fear tragedy. And what does it mean to fear God? Verses 11 and 12 begin by telling us:

Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days. (Psalm 34:11-12)

Angels definitely are involved in prolonging our lives and making our days good. But what is the fear of the Lord? The next verse says that if you want many good days, then:

“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. (Psalm 34:13)

The fear of the Lord is manifested in restraining the tongue. If you fear God, then you will speak the truth.

And what is truth? Jesus said, Thy word is truth! God’s word is the highest form of truth in the universe. By speaking God’s word, you are keeping your tongue from evil and from speaking lies.

And when you do, the angel of the Lord will encamp around you to deliver you in times of trouble. This angel will do this because you show the fear of the Lord by speaking his word!

SATURDAY READING: Lectio Divina And The Angelic Way, by Rami Shapiro

From The Angelic Way

At the heart of this book is the intuition that we are part of God, and the notion that myths regarding angels are designed to remind us of that.  The stories of angels descending to Earth and taking on human form, the stories of humans ascending to Heaven and becoming angels, the stories of humans ascending to Heaven to see God, and the stories of humans ascending to Heaven and then returning to Earth to guide humanity are all pointing to a single truth: humanity and God belong to a singular reality, and each has the capacity to reach the other.

In other words, the relationship between humanity and God is analogous to that between the positive and negative poles of a magnet.  A magnet cannot be a magnet without both poles, and neither pole can exist without its opposite.  Yet it is the nature of the human mind, trapped as it is in the illusion of achad, the alienation from the whole, to imagine itself separate from God.  This imagined division is the cause of much suffering on our part: feeling alienated from the whole we seek to become whole in and of ourselves, like a wave pretending to be the ocean or a leaf pretending to be the tree.  While we can easily see the absurdity of this when speaking of waves and leaves, it is much more difficult for us to see the absurdity of the very same kind of thinking when it comes to ourselves.

And yet we cannot shake off our deep sense that the state of achad is not real, that there is more to us than our ego-centered mind lets on.  The ego-centered mind cannot shut off or dismiss the insights of the world-centered soul and God-centered spirit.  These larger Wholes, Wholes that embrace the ego in a greater nondual reality, continually break into our ego-centered world, and one way in which they do so is as angels.

Thus we understand angels as metaphors for the human capacity to both transcend and include ego-centered mind in more holistic levels of consciousness that ultimately realize the divinity that is the fully human.  We are to realize our true nature as part of God, the singularity that is all reality.

The Greeks called this process of divinization apotheosis (from Greek “to deify”).  According to Joseph Campbell, apotheosis is one of the stages of the Hero’s Journey – the monomyth that underlies almost all mythic tales across times and cultures.  Campbell described seventeen steps or states in this monomyth, and while most myths do not contain all seventeen, the three major divisions into which the seventeen stages fall do seem to be universal.  They are “Departure,” “Initiation,” and “Return.”

Departure calls the hero to a quest that takes him or her away from the known; Initiation happens when the hero passes a number of tests or trials and is rewarded with some new insight or level of self-awareness that has practical application; and Return refers to the conclusion of the myth when the hero returns to the ordinary world and uses the new insight or skill to improve the world.  Apotheosis occurs during the Initiation stage where the hero’s very idea of reality is changed, and he or she can now engage the world in a new way.  The apotheosis often entails an expansion of consciousness that shatters the more narrow view of the ego-centered mind.  Along with this new consciousness comes a sense of self-sacrifice: the hero is willing to sacrifice the self for the greater good.

As Joseph Campbell once said, Myths do not belong, properly, to the rational mind.  Rather, they bubble up from deep in the wells of what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious.  Or to use our own wording: myths do not belong, properly, to the ego-centered mind.  Rather they break into that mind from the larger, more inclusive fields of consciousness we call world-centered soul and God-centered spirit.  Our myths about angels reflect insights of which our ego-centered minds are largely unaware.

To speak of myth in this way we need to recall that while the word, “myth,” is today often and erroneously linked to the words, “false,” and, “lie,” the original and truer meaning of the word is still viable.  Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical.  It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth – penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words.  It is beyond words, beyond images.  Mythology pitches the mind to what can be known but not told.  So this is the penultimate truth. (Joseph Campbell)

The truth toward which the myths of angels point is the truth of the absolute unity of all reality in, with, and as God.  Actively engaging with myths of angels tilts our thinking and opens our minds to more holistic ways of knowing and living in the world.  In Campbell’s words, It’s important to live life with the experience, and therefore the knowledge, of its mystery and your own mystery.  This gives life a new radiance, a new harmony, a new splendor.  Thinking in mythological terms helps to put you in accord with the inevitables of this vale of tears.  You learn to recognize the positive values in what appear to be the negative moments and aspects of your life.  The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty, “yes,” to your adventure – the adventure of the hero – the adventure of being alive.

Angels, or more accurately our myths of angels, call us to the adventure of life, the hero’s journey from bounded ego-centered consciousness to unbounded divine consciousness.  Angels are our mythic guides to this greater reality.  They point toward a truth greater than themselves and show us how to realize that truth in and as our truest selves.  In some of the myths the hero becomes the angel and returns to guide us to the place he or she has been to.  In others, the angel speaks to the hero as “other” and yet is internal – what Rabbi Joseph Karo, the great master of Jewish jurisprudence who said he was visited by an angel he called the Maggid (the Proclaimer), called an “echo” of our deepest thoughts.

According to Karo, the Maggid visited him regularly for fifty-two years.  A journal of his encounters with the Maggid was published some time after Karo’s death under the title, Maggid Mesharim (“One Who Proclaims What Is True”), a phrase borrowed from Isaiah: I didn’t whisper secrets in a land of shadow; I didn’t say to Jacob’s descendants, “Look for me in bedlam.”  I, YHVH, speak what is just, I proclaim what is true [maggid mesharim]. (Isaiah 45:19)

In his journal Karo wrote, Said the Maggid to Karo: “I am only the echo of your thoughts.”  The Maggid reveals to Karo, and through his journal to us, the true nature of angels – echos of our own thoughts.  Not the thoughts generated by the achad-plagued ego-centered mind, but thoughts liberated from illusion and reflective of the greater wholeness to which each of us belongs.

This understanding of angels as an echo of our own thoughts is key to the premise of this book.  Angels are inner realities, inner capacities of human consciousness accessible to us when we transcend the ego-centered limits of self and attune to the larger truth of reality found in the divine realms.

Over the course of five decades the Maggid revealed many secrets to Joseph Karo, secrets that he dutifully recorded in his journal.  I came to reveal to you the mystery of mysteries, the secret of secrets, the Maggid tells Karo.  What I am going to tell you now will make the bones rattle and the knees tremble in fear, terror, and awe.  Why?  Because they reveal dimensions of reality that the ego-centered mind cannot fathom, and may well fear.

All angels reveal secrets, even the fallen ones.  Satan calls us to face our dark side, and does so with all the skill he can muster.  Where would be the heroic in our journey if the dark side was portrayed as not alluring?  It takes little courage to say, “no,” to the undesirable.  So Satan makes the dark side seem appealing, and does his best to entice us to it.  That is his task – to make our choosing between good and evil real and courageous.

The question is whether or not we are willing to say, “yes,” to the angels, “yes,” to our own transformation, and, “yes,” to the hero’s journey that might cost us all we know and yet promises us so much more.

Here, in The Angelic Way, we want to assume that we are willing to say, “yes,” – if not this moment, then the next; if not today, then perhaps tomorrow.  And with this assumption we will explore how we can evoke our angelic potential and open us to the greater wholeness of which we are a part.

To evoke something is to call it into our consciousness from within.  Angels do not dwell outside of us, but inside of us.  They are, as Joseph Karo’s angel revealed, echoes of our own higher mind, aspects of ourselves that our ego-centered mind cannot grasp due to its state of achad.  

But to evoke the angelic we have to engage the ego.  We cannot “slay the ego” and discover the angelic, for who would be doing the slaying?  “We” are  for the most part ego-centered minds, and there is no need to deny, decry, or defeat that truth.  Like Karo we must engage in ego-centered activities that will draw out the angels rather than drown out the ego.

Joseph Karo’s method was a type of lectio divina, a contemplative reading of the Mishnah, the early law code of the ancient rabbis – not as a fixed text to be memorized but as a fluid field in which to let the imagination play with possibility.  At the heart of angelic encounters is this willingness to let the imagination play.  By actively and imaginatively entering into the classic myths of angels we can evoke the angelic mind and receive our own revelation.

Lectio Divina

What we are suggesting is to use our imagination to engage our angelic faculty by reading and listening to the myths of angels, ascending humans, and human and angelic messengers in a specific way, a way rooted in the spiritual practice of lectio divina. 

Lectio divina, Latin for “divine reading” or “holy reading,” is a traditional Christian prayer practice nurtured in Benedictine monasteries and designed to act as a catalyst for communion with God.  Lectio divina can be found in the monastic rules of Pachomius, Basil, Augustine, and Benedict, though the formal structuring of the practice into four steps or stages dates back to the Carthusian monk Guigo II in his book, The Monk’s Ladder, dating to around 1150.

While we will adapt lectio divina to our own needs, it may help to understand the process as it was originally articulated.  Lectio divina is usually an hour-long discipline, though some people divide the practice into two half-hour periods, one in the morning, the other at night.

Lectio divina should be done in a peaceful setting.  The reading one wishes to use should be chosen in advance.  Prior to reading one should take a few minutes to quiet body and mind.  Once feeling centered one should begin the four stages of lectio divina. The first stage is lectio, reading the chosen passage slowly and with full attention several times through.  The second stage is meditatio, thinking over the meaning and implication of words or sentences.  The third stage is oratio, entering into an inner dialogue with God around the passage just read.  The fourth stage is contemplatio, a silent resting in the presence of God.

To pursue our angelic lectio divina, we first need to set aside a specific place and time to engage in spiritual reading.  The place should be quiet and free from distractions, and the time should be one when we are least apt to be intruded upon either in person or electronically.

Second, we need to choose a myth about angels with which we wish to engage.  There is nothing magical about this choice; one myth is not better than another.  Rather, we should choose a passage that speaks to us personally.  If we find ourselves drawn to the tales of the archangels, let us choose one of the passages relating to them.   If Hindu or Buddhist myths move us, we can choose from among them.  But there is no need to be interreligious in one’s choice.  While over time we may choose to draw from myths that are presently outside of our comfort zone or area of interest, we are most likely to have success with this spiritual reading if we choose a passage that we find intrinsically moving or intriguing.  In a sense we should let the myth choose us, rather than our choosing the myth.

Third, as we begin to settle into our reading, we need to make time to quiet our body and mind.  Our body should be comfortable, our breathing soft, even, and slow – but we don’t want to fall asleep.  We rest our attention on our breath, focus lightly on our inhalation and exhalation.  We shouldn’t seek to control our breathing, just watch it.  Over time we will fall into a natural rhythm, and we will be ready to proceed.

GOD 101: The Last Lesson

I was a young woman when the serious lessons began.  After my time of Rumspringa – or in my case, running away from God.

Not long after I was hunted down and recaptured.

Well, it wasn’t that dramatic.  But it adds a nice flourish to the story, don’t you think?

It didn’t take me long to realize that the lessons weren’t like lessons in school: lessons I could apply myself to and learn easily and with a little time and effort.

We’ll leave geometry out of the above equation.

But, in spite of needing infinite time, patience, and the willingness to actually apply myself to these lessons, they just kept coming.

The Lesson of Silence….

The Meaning of Patience….

The Lesson of Six….

The Lesson of Source and Orbit….

And on and on.

You get the drift.

So I didn’t really raise an eyebrow when along came The Last Lesson.

Last in terms of what?  That it will be the last lesson I’m assigned?

Not hardly.

Last lesson because the lessons lie on a line with a definite beginning and even more definite end?

Couldn’t say, really.

A few decades went by, and I wondered if the “last” in The Last Lesson referred to the fact that perhaps this was the last thing on a person’s mind.  The answer to the last question we ask God.

Because, just perhaps, after we hear the answer, we won’t need to ask anything else.

If this is correct (and, just remember, I’m 100% wrong in thinking I understand anything that hasn’t been bashed into my head by God), then I think it’s short-sighted of God.

People will continue to ask questions, even if they are trivial or foolish.

All right.

Warm-up is over.

Let’s get down to the lesson.

Shall we?

The Last Lesson answers the question, Why are we here on Earth?

The skip-right-to-the-end answer is: To experience.

Out of body we don’t experience.

Anything.

We have no mechanism to.

No nervous system.

No brain.

No skin.

No tongue.

No eyes.

Zip.

Nada.

Bodiless wonders.

What we are are essences of our souls.

Energy.

Pure and simple.

And this energy blends in with all the rest of the energy in the universe.

That’s a lot of energy.

That’s a lot of life current.

So all these stories of playing golf with Gandhi in Heaven, or meeting up with our great-aunt Emma are just stories.

We won’t be feasting in Heaven because we won’t be bringing our stomachs with us.

Neither will we be bringing our emotions.

Not even our thought that our neighbor keeps a messy garden.

That is right and accurate.

Nevertheless, we plan our “trip” to Heaven: what we will bring, what we will leave behind.  All that.

It’s like packing up our entire household into a moving van, and then thinking we are going to take all that stuff with us when we climb Mount Everest.

That happens to be a perfect simile. 

The other thing we get massively wrong about God is that he frets about whether we are alive or dead.

Just look around the world.  Do you see any evidence of this?

God Is Absolute.

All that is here on Earth is encompassed by God.

Everything.

And why would God care if we died or if we lived?  It’s all the same to him.

And diseases and wars and fatal accidents are just the means of our transition from life to death.

That’s what we were put here for: to live and then (you guessed it) to die.

The experiencing that we are supposed to be doing isn’t supposed to be an eternal thing.  It’s just so we can shape the rest of the energy in the universe.

We keep discovering new things and figuring out how things go together (and how some things don’t go together).

We play with the taste of food.

With the sound of music.

With movement and expressions of all kinds.

With the mechanics of the Earth.

With suffering and with joy.

So, you say (very logically, I might add), what?

So what?

We’re here to experience, like we’ve been sent off to summer camp and no matter how good or bad the experience is for us, our parents will be overjoyed that they didn’t have to come pick us up early, will slap us on our backs and tell us, You will look back on this one day and see what a great time you had.

That’s it?

Kicked out of Heaven, FOR AN EXPERIENCE?

As I said, very logically asked.

But there’s a trick to this lesson.

Deep in its heart, there’s a secret.

And only those who allow themselves to experience this will understand.

We are here to experience romantic love.

I have figured out my definition of romantic love:

Love is a tangle of sighs.

I realized that it works just as well backside-front:

Love is a sigh of tangles.

But here’s the deal.

Love gives us the only true door through which we can pass and experience eternity.

See that?  See what the lesson does right there?

It shows that our ultimate experience here on Earth is finding our way to experience eternity.

Here on Earth.

And to learn that life is all that is before us.  And around us.  And behind us.

That there is no edge to us.  No limit.

No limits.

We tend to run into the sides of our brain when we try to think about eternity.

That’s because eternity isn’t a thought.  It’s not a concept.

It’s an experience.

See what I did there?

Get it?

Eternity is THE experience on Earth.

(Sounds like God to me: Come to Earth.  Figure out how to experience that which includes Earth but just happens to include everything else in the universe.  

Gee thanks.)

So how do we accomplish this, and what do we do when we’ve experienced the experience of eternity?

Well, I guess we’ll just have to keep hunting for the door to eternity and see if we find an answer on the other side of it.

Of, find out that there are no more answers, because there really are no more questions in eternity.

Amen.

ANGELS: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Archangels, by Kathleen Norris

From The Cloister Walk

Before my husband embarked on his South Seas journey, he installed a large National Geographic map of the region on the stark white wall by the kitchen table.  When he called last night, he’d just arrived in Rarotonga, in the Cook Island.  I found the words on the map, and fingered them as we spoke.  I finger them again, at breakfast, to keep him in my presence.  It’s our fifteenth anniversary.  He’s staying at the Paradise Inn.

We didn’t pick our wedding day for any particular reason.  We eloped, continuing what has become a family tradition, on my mother’s side: both my grandmother Totten and my mother eloped when young – probably too young – and then built on this folly marriages that endured for close to sixty years.  We’ve had just one church wedding within the last seventy years, and it resulted in our one divorce.

One day, in a library reference room I became curious to know if the date of our wedding had any significance in the Christian tradition.  When I discovered that it was the Feast of Archangels, I got the giggles and left before the librarian would have to throw me out.

I have saved up things to tell David: a monk who’d complained to me about the resistance to change he’d encountered at work, who said, “It’s the well-worn idol named, ‘But we’ve never done it that way before!'”  Exasperated, he’d said, “And people wonder how dogmas get started!”  David laughs; he knows this is the Feast of Archangels, and tells me that he’s discovered that in the native religion of Tonga, whales are the messengers of the gods, performing a function much like the eagle in Lakota religion, or angels in Christianity.  In Nuku’alofa, which means, “The City Where Love Lives,” he purchased an amulet of a whale’s fluke, representing the divine messenger who moves between our world and that of the Creator, who lives at the bottom of the sea.  The woman who sold it to him said it had been blessed by a Methodist bishop, but he could also take it to a priest of the old religion.  “I did,” he said.  “It cost me a six-pack of beer and a carton of cigarettes,” he says, happily.  I am happy to think of him walking around paradise wrapped in blessings.

At morning prayer, the psalms seem suited to the archangels.  Psalm 29, for Michael, the power of God: “The Lord’s voice resounding on the waters, the God of glory thunders; the Lord on the immensity of waters.”  And for Gabriel, Psalm 25, a quiet prayer of hope and trust.  For Raphael, a psalm that I love, 147: “The Lord builds up Jerusalem, and brings back Israel’s exiles.  And heals the broken-hearted; and binds up all their wounds.”

Michael – who is as God; Gabriel – God’s messenger; Raphael – God’s healing.  They say what angels always say, “Do not fear.”

 

ANGELS: Angels Guard And Rescue Us, by Vinita Hampton Wright

From A Catalogue of Angels

He will order his angels
to guard you wherever you go.

They will carry you in their hands
lest you hurt your foot on a stone.
(Psalm 91:11-12, Tanakh)


One of the most popular beliefs about angels is that they protect us from harm.  The vast majority of present-day accounts of angelic encounters have to do with people’s being snatched from death: invisible hands pulling a person out of the path of an oncoming car, a child being led by a light or voice or a kind stranger out of harm’s way.  In one account, a mountain climber lost in a blizzard is spared twice from falling over precipices by railroad crossing signs that appear out of nowhere and then disappear.

The Christian belief in guardian angels is based in part on a statement Jesus made in Matthew 18:10: Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in Heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in Heaven.  In the book of Genesis, the patriarch Jacob, when he is near death, offers a blessing upon Joseph: The God before whom my ancestors Abraham and Isaac walked, / the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, / the angel who has redeemed me from all harm, bless the boys.

Saint Basil wrote, We pray to God who is well disposed toward men in order that he might give an angel of peace as a companion to protect us.  And also, An angel is put in charge of every believer, provided we do not drive him out by sin.  He guards the soul like an army.

Belief in guardian angels is long established in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim doctrines about angels.  In Jewish lore and tradition, each person is guarded by not one but thousands of angels.  It is also believed that each person has one angel on his left and another on his right.  Early church fathers proclaimed that every person was assigned a guardian angel at birth that accompanied the person throughout life.  The Qur’an states that each person has an angel in front of him and one behind.

The nations were believed to have their guardian angels as well.  These angels are called ethnarchs or archons.  Saints Basil and John Chrysostom, and Pseudo-Dionysius are among the early Christian thinkers who were convinced that, based on scriptures such as Deuteronomy 32:8 and Daniel 10:13-21, each nation had its guardian angel who not only watched over a people in the physical sense but was held responsible for the spiritual direction they took.  This belief certainly predated the Christian church, originating with the ancient Jewish teaching if not earlier.

Beyond guardian angels are those sent to rescue people, especially righteous people, who are in danger.  When the three Hebrew youths are thrown into the fiery furnace in Daniel 3, a fourth “man” appears, looking different from the others – witnesses recognize him as looking like “a divine being.”  A few chapters later, when Daniel is thrown into the lions’ den, an angel comes to shut the lion’s mouths, and Daniel survives the night.


In one story, a misguided prophet is rescued from his own plans.  Balaam is on his way to meet with Balak, who wants the prophet to curse the people of Israel and thus protect the interests of Balak’s tribe.  Balaam knows God’s will in this matter, that he is not to curse the Israelites, and he has told Balak this, but Balak sent “more numerous and more distinguished” messengers, and Balaam asked God a second time if he should go.  God said to go but to do only what God told him to do.  But from what follows, it seems that God was quite angry that Balaam came back a second time when he already knew the answers:

God was incensed at his going; so an angel of the Lord placed himself in his way as an adversary.

He was riding on his she-ass, with his two servants alongside, when the ass caught sight of the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand.  The ass swerved from the road and went into the fields; and Balaam beat the ass to turn her back onto the road.  The angel of the Lord then stationed himself in a land between the vineyards, with a fence on either side.  The ass, seeing the angel of the Lord, pressed herself against the wall and squeezed Balaam’s foot against the wall, so he beat her again.  Once more the angel of the Lord moved forward and stationed himself on a spot so narrow that there was not room to swerve right or left.  When the ass now saw the angel of the Lord she lay down under Balaam; and Balaam was furious and beat the ass with his stick.

Then the Lord opened the ass’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?  Balaam said to the ass, You have made a mockery of me!  If I had a sword with me, I’d kill you.  The ass said to Balaam, Look, I am the ass that you have been riding all along until this day!  Have I been in the habit of doing thus to you?  And he answered, No.

Then the Lord uncovered Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, his drawn sword in his hand; thereupon he bowed right down to the ground.  The angel of the Lord said to him, Why have you beaten your ass these three times?  It is I who came out as an adversary, for the errand is obnoxious to me.  And when the ass saw me, she shied away because of me those three times.  If she had not shied away from me, you are the one I should have killed, while sparing her. (Numbers 22:22-33, Tanakh)

This rich little tale brings a couple of concepts to the fore.  One is that angels often are charged with protecting us from ourselves.  The other is that animals are probably much more aware of spiritual presences than are humans.  There’s plenty of anecdotal material indicating that animals and small children are often able to perceive angels when adults remain oblivious to them.  Of course, this is a story, a legend, in which a donkey talks and his owner is so caught up in his own anger that he seems not to notice that he’s conversing with his own beast of burden.  And the angel is highly frustrated with Balaam and would have killed him but let the donkey live because the poor thing was doing its best to serve its master and avoid annihilation.

The persistence of the angel in the Balaam story is reminiscent of another story in Genesis concerning Lot, the nephew of Abraham.  The three angels come to Sodom to judge its fate, and when it is clear that the city must be destroyed, the angels tell Lot to take his wife, daughters, and their husbands and flee the city immediately.  Lot relays the message to his sons-in-law, who don’t take him seriously, and the next morning, the whole family is still in Sodom.  So the men [angels] seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and left him outside the city.”


Angels showed up in the life of Jesus Christ several times according to gospel accounts, and he was aware of their continuing presence.  From his words in Matthew 26:52-53, we see that he acknowledged their guardianship on a grand scale.  He has just been arrested, and one of his disciples tried to defend Jesus by drawing a sword:

Then Jesus said to him, Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?

Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus, his followers experienced the help of guardians, particularly when being associated with Jesus became dangerous.

Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, arrested the apostles, and put them in the public prison.  But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.  When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.

Judging from the contemporary stories of angel encounters, it would seem that the majority of cases involve protection or rescue of some kind.  In the collective mind at least, guardian angels are very much present to us today as in past centuries.

ANGELS: The Hands Of A Comforter, by Joan Wester Anderson

From Where Angels Walk

Who does the best [her] circumstance allows
Does well, acts nobly; angels could do no more.
Edward Young


Millions of people watch the wholesome family fare on cable television’s Eternal Word Television Network.  The unlikely founder of EWTN, Mother Mary Angelica, is a Roman Catholic cloistered nun who, with a handful of other sisters, two hundred dollars, and absolutely no knowledge of television (“Okay,” Mother Angelica concedes, “so I did know how  to turn one on.”) has become the only woman in religious television who owns a network.

Visitors to the EWTN complex outside Birmingham, Alabama, cannot help but be impressed with what God and this little nun have accomplished.  A monastery, network facilities and satellite dish, a print shop and chapel stand incongruously in the midst of the Protestant Bible Belt.  When Mother Angelica believed in 1981 that God was calling her to begin a media ministry, she simply did so, and everything else has fallen into place.

Mother Angelica doesn’t take herself too seriously, which is probably why viewers choose her twice weekly show, “Mother Angelica Live,” as their favorite.  Although it features a studio audience, call-ins from across the country, and popular guests, the show is sometimes less than polished.  Sets occasionally collapse, for example, and Mother Angelica is prone to fits of giggles and witty asides.

Despite her grandmotherly image, she is firm and no-nonsense in her views on morality, yet quick to encourage and express compassion.  Often, she ministers on the air to anonymous callers, counseling a distraught divorcee, gently scolding a drug addict, bringing God’s healing “to those who, perhaps, can’t reach out any other way.

“I want to be a thorn in people’s sides,” she admits.  “I want to challenge them; I want to be another John the Baptist who says, ‘Get with it!'”

Fewer viewers know, perhaps, that Mother Angelica, who was born Rita Rizzo, had a rough childhood.  After a bitter marriage, her parents divorced when she was six.  Little Rita was poverty-stricken, vulnerable, and because of her mother’s divorce, ostracized within her Canton, Ohio, church community.  Nor was she particularly impressed with the nuns.  “I remember sitting in church watching them pray, and vowing I would never be among their ranks.”  Mother Angelica says.  “Their facial expressions were sour, their headpieces too large – I was convinced they were the most unhappy people I’d ever seen.”  Then one day she experienced a moment of grace, a touch meant especially for her.

Mother Angelica has told the story often.  About eleven years old, and feeling especially lonely and sad, she was walking downtown one evening, oblivious to everything around her.  “I started to cross a busy street, then heard a woman’s shrill scream behind me,” she recalls.  Rita looked back expecting to see someone in trouble, and instead realized that a car was speeding toward her, the headlights shining in her eyes, and waited for the fatal impact.

Instead she felt two strong hands lift her high in the air.  A moment later she blinked and looked around in disbelief.  She was standing on the sidewalk!

A crowd gathered.  Onlookers had expected to see a terrible accident and a child’s crumpled body.  Instead they found a healthy, but quite frightened, girl.  To them, it appeared that she had definitely been hit, then hurled aside by the force of the collision.  They were completely mystified at her lack of injuries.

A bus driver who witnessed the event form his higher perch later reported, with disbelief, a somewhat different scenario.  He insisted that Rita had jumped or somehow been catapulted high into the air, easily clearing both the safety island and the onrushing auto.  Such a feat seemed impossible, and the man was dumbfounded.

As soon as she got home, Rita told her mother what had happened, and both of them gave thanks for this rare moment of joy.  Somehow they understood that, despite their hardships, they were being guided for and cared for.

That was the beginning of Rita’s confidence in angels.  When she entered the Poor Clares convent, she chose a new name that would honor them.  Later she founded (and named) Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, where she still lives, writes books, and directs her television network.  Her life has been a testimony to the power of faith.

But Mother Angelica hasn’t forgotten that extraordinary moment when she felt the hands of a comforter and knew that God’s love would never fail.

POETRY: Angel With Big Book, by Kathryn Maris

The angel’s book is blue and dense and God knows the book,
which is nailed to the sky.

The angel is my friend and yet to say he has a good heart
is to be a poor physician,

for his wings are in his dodgy chest, speedy wings that beat
to a bad time.

His wings are all he’s put away. His papers sit on rock and bog
and wind and desk,

on every noun in the world, even the flimsy nouns of the mind.

We all have dead friends, but he has more, and his big book
is the chronicle of harm.

Like his heart’s flutter and his room’s clutter, this book is his burden,
and he has kept me out

using charm and guile and even lies, and I was grateful for my
exclusion,

I was surprised.

To know the angel is to sense that you are gone. But to love him is
to love

what isn’t gone

like the world, the word and this angel who is fragile and who claims
no generosity, but is wrong.

POETRY: Questions About Angels, by Billy Collins

Of all the questions you might want to ask
about angels, the only one you ever hear
is how many can dance on the head of a pin.

No curiosity about how they pass the eternal time
besides circling the Throne chanting in Latin
or delivering a crust of bread to a hermit on earth
or guiding a boy and girl across a rickety wooden bridge.

Do they fly through God’s body and come out singing?
Do they swing like children from the hinges
of the spirit world saying their names backwards and forwards?
Do they sit alone in little gardens changing colors?

What about their sleeping habits, the fabric of their robes,
their diet of unfiltered divine light?
What goes on inside their luminous heads? Is there a wall
these tall presences can look over and see hell?

If an angel fell off a cloud would he leave a hole
in a river and would the hole float along endlessly
filled with the silent letters of every angelic word?

If an angel delivered the mail would he arrive
in a blinding rush of wings or would he just assume
the appearance of the regular mailman and
whistle up the driveway reading the postcards?

No, the medieval theologians control the court.
The only question you ever hear is about
the little dance floor on the head of a pin
where halos are meant to converge and drift invisibly.

It is designed to make us think in millions,
billions, to make us run out of numbers and collapse
into infinity, but perhaps the answer is simply one:
one female angel dancing alone in her stocking feet,
a small jazz combo working in the background.

She sways like a branch in the wind, her beautiful
eyes closed, and the tall thin bassist leans over
to glance at his watch because she has been dancing
forever, and now it is very late, even for musicians.

ANGELS: Wrestling With Angels, by David Albert Jones

From Angels: A History

Jacob and the Angel

And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.  Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.”  But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

And he said to him, “What is your name?”  And he said, “Jacob.”

Then he said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Then Jacob asked him, “Tell me, I pray, your name.”  But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?”  And there he blessed him.

So Jacob called the name of the place, Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face-to-face, and yet my life is preserved.” (Genesis 32:24-30)

The angel in this story does not come as a messenger, like Gabriel, or as a healer, like Raphael.  The angel does not come to test Jacob’s hospitality, as do the three angels who visit Abraham.  This angel comes in the darkness of the night to contend with Jacob, to test his spirit and his resolve.  Jacob prevails and lives to see the sun rise, though we are told that later he survives limping.  The whole encounter is somewhat mysterious.  Jacob meets God and is blessed by God, but before he is blessed he has to grapple with God.  The angel is not an evil spirit, but is a formidable spirit.

This scene was rarely portrayed before the nineteenth century.  Rembrandt is an exception.  However, the imagery has a great resonance in the modern world.  Just as Paul Klee struggles to see angels that are other than “incomplete,” “forgetful,” and “still ugly,” so a variety of nineteenth- and twentieth century artists were inspired by this struggle between man and angel.  Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Moreau, Paul Gauguin, Odilon Redon, Jacob Epstein, and Marc Chagall all produced memorable images of this encounter.  In the case of Gauguin, the painting is called Vision After the Sermon.  The picture features a group of women in Breton costume talking and praying.  The figures of Jacob and the angel, pictured against a vivid red background, are not naturalistic, but the contest has more Earthly vitality than it has the stillness of an icon.  It occurs in their imagination, but is nonetheless real for that.

Gauguin: The Vision After the Sermon

Gauguin: The Vision After the Sermon

The title, “wrestling with angels,” has been adopted for several modern collections of poems and short stories, and for works as diverse as: a history of Jews in Los Angeles; a study of Jewish attitudes to the use of military power by Israel; a reflection on surviving cancer; a discussion of sexuality and the church; and many more besides.  It provides the title of a biography of the New Zealand novelist, Janet Frame, and also of the biographical film of Jewish playwright and gay-rights activist, Tony Kushner, which features, among other things, Emma Thompson as an angel who crashes through a ceiling.  Wrestling With Angels is also the title of a book by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  It is subtitled, Conversation In Modern Theology.

These works of art and literature depict a spiritual struggle that is characteristically modern.  The image of grappling with the angel expresses a common experience.  The religious meaning of the past is not denied, but this meaning is elusive and comes only with difficulty.  Jacob wins the day and receives his blessing, but he enters into life limping.

Holding Up a Mirror To Humanity

A running theme in this book has been that reflection on angels can illuminate aspects of human existence.  In the Abrahamic traditions, serious discussion of angels has often been a roundabout way of talking about human beings: angelology as disguised anthropology.

Angels frequently highlight moments of human significance.  Angels are present at sacred moments at the beginning and the end of life.  Not only the birth of a child but already his or her conception is the beginning of something new.  This is revealed by the presence of angels at conception.  People rarely reflect that they did not always exist.  Yet each person’s life is something radically new, something never repeated, something mysterious.  It has human meaning from the very beginning.

Angels are also present at the end.  Their presence reminds us of the need for spiritual care at the end of life.  Thanks to the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and others, there has been a revival of interest in “dying well” among psychologists and heathcare workers.  The association of angels with dying expresses hope not just for life after death but for meaning in death.  This is a great challenge and is a context where people may well speak of wrestling with angels.

In addition to marking the great transitions of beginning and ending, angels also bear witness to the overlooked significance of human life.  This is true of overlooked lives, of people who are marginal in terms of social standing or human capacities.  Not only does each and every person have a guardian angel, but the examples of Saint Martin of Tours and of Dorothy Day show that “entertaining angels” can help people to recognize the stranger in front of them.

Angels can also call attention to the significance of events within life.  This is the theme of the film, It’s a Wonderful Life.  The angel, Clarence Oddbody, shows the despairing George Bailey the true effects of his actions.  This helps George see the impact of many small and ordinary acts of kindness and the cumulative effect of a good life on those around.  More importantly, it reminds him what and who he values in life.  His despair had been inward-looking.  The angel shows him his connectedness with others and gives him hope.

The significance of human experience is also explored in the beautiful German film, Wings Of Desire.  This shows angels in Berlin watching and accompanying the people of that city.  The story is of one angel who gets fed up with watching eternally “from above” and who wants to immerse himself in the river of time – to experience the “now and now,” and to touch and taste and feel the world.  The angel acts as a mirror by way of contrast.  Human beings are not angels and recognizing this can lead to a new appreciation of the richness of human life.

A Time Of Angels

Lynn Townsend White, in an influential essay in 1967, accused Christianity (and by implication, Judaism and Islam) of bearing “a huge burden of guilt” for the emerging ecological crisis.  The root problem was alleged to be that Christians saw human beings as the peak of creation.  Only human beings were made in “the image of God,” and are thus given “dominion” over the rest of creation.  This idea all too easily flowed into an attitude of domination or exploitation.  Other living things had value only if they were useful for human beings.  This utilitarian attitude towards creation has led to a crisis that is threatening the whole planet with disaster.

While the anthropocentric arrogance detected by White may have its roots in a distortion of Christianity, this problematic attitude is further amplified in some strands of secular thinking.  For atheist philosophers such as Ludwig Feuerback or Bertrand Russell, the existence of God and of spiritual beings “above” human beings represents a threat to human freedom.  Human beings are and ought to be in control of the world.  Nature is an object to be controlled.  Nothing is sacred.  This is seen even in the writings of Philip Pullman, for whom God must be killed and angels overthrown so that Heaven is no longer a kingdom but a “republic of Heaven.”  Human beings then become the source of all value.

Reflection on the angels can help remedy this.  If human beings are “a little lower than the angels,” then we are midway up a chain of being, not at the top looking down on everyone else.  Similarly, the idea of an angelic “song of the spheres” expresses the beauty and integrity of the whole cosmos.  Human beings take their place in this whole and not over and against the rest of creation.  This is also seen in the tableau of Raphael, Tobias, and the dog, which is an image of the microcosm, of angelic, human, and other animal life.  The tableau shows a shared journey, a spiritual pilgrimage.  It is not a journey that is complete nor can it be completely understood before it ends.

Angels have taken different forms in different times and places.  They have carried different cultural meanings.  Nevertheless there are recurrent patterns.  Angels are liminal figures at the threshold between the visible and the invisible worlds.  The stories of angels are often playful or ironic.  In the words of Chesterton, “angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.”

Images and ideas about angels have moved easily between different religions and into contemporary culture.  This is another reason why Judaism, Islam, and Christianity have sometimes been ambivalent about them.  Angels do not stay safely in the confines of any one religion.  Talk of angels has always flourished more in folk culture than in official categories.  They help illuminate the limitedness of those categories and teach us to be suspicious of easy rationalism, whether of a secular or of a religious kind.  The world is not tidy, and it is neither fruitful nor honest to tidy it up artificially.  Angels help show up the mystery of it all.

The elusive character of angels helps explain why they remain popular in an age that finds faith difficult.  This is why Iris Murdoch described this age as a “time of angels,” and even wrote that, if there is no God, the angels are set free.  Yet, if the angels have been “set free” in our modern irreligious culture, as their popularity seems to attest, then nevertheless, like homing pigeons, they should be allowed to circle and return to their source.  One aim of this book has been to encourage people to see angels in their original habitat.  This is not in an attempt to constrain the significance that people find in angels.  It is rather an invitation to add to this and to trace the meaning of angels back to the spiritual tradition that begins with Abraham, whether through its Jewish, Christian, or Islamic forms.

Until the end of the book I have avoided, as far as possible, asking directly about the evidence for angels.  So what do I think?  Do angels really exist?  It seems to me foolish to seek to prove the existence of angels.  It would be like deliberately testing a friendship – something likely to do more harm than good.  The desire to test everything stems from a preference for knowledge over trust.  Yet we cannot live unless we sometimes trust.  On the other hand, if attempting to prove the existence of angels is folly, attempting to exclude the possibility of angels a priori seems to me a greater folly.  Denying the possibility of angels can be done only by reducing all reality to physical categories, to matter in motion.  Yet human beings possess an inner life, are aware, come to understand, act freely, make moral judgments, commit themselves to one another and to greater causes.  This cannot all be expressed in purely physical or quantitative terms.  For the sake of humanity, then, it is necessary to defend the human spirit, and this implies keeping an open mind about the existence of other, immaterial, spirits.

The contemporary preoccupation with angels is an embarrassment to many religious believers and an affront to many atheists.  Yet this is a time of the angels.  The visitors who once sat at Abraham’s table are still here.  They show no sign of taking flight from modern culture.  They prefer to remain, whether to inspire us, to console us, or to wrestle against us.

ANGELS: A Tiny Piece of Heaven, by Joan Wester Anderson

From Where Angels Walk

I want to be an angel
And with the angels stand,

A crown upon my forehead,
A harp within my hand.
(Urania Bailey)


Most adults don’t see an angel that resembles the typical rendition in art.  Children, however, seem to connect with the winged and haloed version.

One mother and her little daughter were walking down the street when, a few feet from a wall, the child stopped.  The mother urged her on, but the child seemed rooted to the spot.  Suddenly there was a great crash – the wall had fallen.  Had they gone on, they undoubtedly would have been crushed to death.  Pale with fright, the woman asked her daughter why she had stopped at that precise moment.

“Didn’t you see that beautiful man, dressed in a long white gown, Mommy?” the child asked.  “He stood right in front of me so I could not go on.”


Jesus had special things to say about children.  He wanted them to be able to come to him freely, unhindered by adults, because their innocence and pure hearts were what the kingdom of Heaven was all about.  Perhaps this is why little ones seem able to cut through the spiritual barriers we adults so often construct, and see a tiny piece of Heaven.  But when it happens, we adults still find it hard to believe.

That was the reaction of Laura Leigh Agnese of Bethpage, New York.  Her then three-year-old son, Danny, was by all accounts an especially nice child, caring and honest, although he loved telling – and embellishing – stories.  He also had his share of accidents.

One morning Danny tore across the living-room floor and tripped.  A horrified Laura Leigh watched him, almost in slow motion, hurtle headfirst toward the sharp corner of a table.  She took several steps, knowing already that she was too late to break his fall.

But Danny didn’t hit the table at all.  Instead, he seemed to stop in midair.  Within a few seconds he stood straight up again and ran on.

Puzzled, Laura Leigh replayed the scene in her mind.  Yes, he had certainly been falling straight toward the table, and a three-year-old, tumbling at that speed, wouldn’t have enough control or agility to twist away.  Nor had she noticed Danny trying to catch himself.  Yet he had somehow stopped falling.  The episode defied the law of gravity!

By the next day, Laura Leigh had forgotten the incident – until Danny, absorbed in play, looked up at her.

“Mommy?  I saw a beautiful lady.  With wings.”

“Really, Danny?”  Laura Leigh smiled.  His stories were so imaginative.  “What is the lady like?”

“She’s nice,” Danny said matter-of-factly.  “She caught me yesterday so I didn’t hit my head against the table.”

Laura Leigh felt a chill.  “Did the lady say anything?”

“Uh-huh.  She said she was going to watch over me and keep me from getting hurt.

Danny went back to his toy, but Laura Leigh was lost in thought.  “Danny was so little that my husband and I hadn’t really taught him about spiritual things,” she says.  “We had told him about God, but we hadn’t mentioned angels – we didn’t know much about them ourselves.”  He’d had no exposure to angels through preschool, church, or television either, at least not that she knew.  “Now Danny was telling me about a beautiful lady, and it seemed a perfect answer to an unexplainable event.”

Yet Laura Leigh found it hard to believe her son.  Children that age had trouble separating fact from fantasy, didn’t they?  And yet, he had seemed so certain….

When her daughter was born, Laura Leigh had placed a print of a cherub over her crib.  Now she went and got it.  “Did your beautiful lady look like this, Danny?” she asked.

Danny looked at the picture of the baby angel, then at her, his eyes puzzled.  “No, Mommy.  That isn’t a lady.

Laura Leigh didn’t want to mention the word, angel.  “But it has wings.  Don’t they look just a little bit alike?”

Danny shook his head firmly.  Although he usually enjoyed telling stories, this was different.  Obviously, to him, the lady had been real.

Confused, Laura Leigh phoned her sister-in-law Roseann Sciaretta.  Not only was Roseann a faith-filled woman, able to reassure Laura Leigh that angels were wonderful, she also knew Danny very well.  “Danny wouldn’t lie about a thing like that,” Roseann comforted Laura Leigh.  “But let me try something.”

The next day Roseann brought a picture card of a guardian angel to Laura Leigh’s home.  The angel looked female and had large wings coming out of her shoulders.  “Take a look at this, Danny,” Roseann said, giving her nephew the picture.

Danny’s eyes instantly lit up.  “The lady!” he said, smiling.  “Look, Mommy, that’s the lady I saw!  She’s the friend that’s going to watch over me!  Can I keep this?”

Danny never mentioned the beautiful lady again, and today, four years later, has apparently forgotten the incident.  But Danny also seems to be a remarkably kind and gentle boy, particularly interested in spiritual things.  And the picture of the angel is still on his mirror.

ANGELS: Of Prayer, by Richard Hooker

From: Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity

Between the throne of God in Heaven and his church upon Earth here militant if it be so that Angels have their continual intercourse, where should we find the same more verified than in these two ghostly exercises, the one doctrine and the other prayer? For what is the assembling of the church to learn, but the receiving of Angels descended from above? What to pray, but the sending of Angels upward? His Heavenly inspirations and our holy desires are as so many Angels of intercourse and commerce between God and us. As teaching brings us to know that God is our supreme truth; so prayer testifies that we acknowledge him our sovereign good.

Besides, sith on God as the most high all inferior causes in the world are dependent; and the higher any cause is, the more it covets to impart virtue unto all things beneath it; how should any kind of service we do or can do find greater acceptance than prayer, which shows our concurrence with him in desiring that wherewith his very nature doth most delight?

Is not the name of prayer usual to signify even all the service that ever we do unto God? And that for no other cause, as I suppose, but to show that there is in religion no acceptable duty which devout invocation of the name of God doth not either presuppose or infer. Prayers are those “calves of men’s lips,” those most gracious and sweet odors; those rich presents and gifts, which being carried up to Heaven do best testify our dutiful affection, and are for the purchasing of all favor at the hands of God the most undoubted means we can use.

On others what more easily, and yet what more fruitfully bestowed, than our prayers? If we give counsel, they are the simpler only that need it; if alms, the poor only are relieved; but by prayer we do good to all. And whereas every other duty besides is but to show itself as time and opportunity require, for this all times are convenient: when we are not able to do any other thing for men’s benefit, when through maliciousness or unkindness they vouchsafe not to accept any other good at our hands, prayer is that which we always have in our power to bestow, and they never in theirs to refuse. Wherefore “God forbid,” says Samuel, speaking unto a most unthankful people, a people weary of the benefit of his most virtuous government over them, “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord, and cease to pray for you.” It is the first thing wherewith a righteous life begins, and the last wherewith it doth end.

The knowledge is small which we have on Earth concerning things that are done in Heaven. Notwithstanding thus much we know even of saints in Heaven, that they pray. And therefore prayer being a work common to the church as well triumphant as militant, a work common unto men with Angels, what should we think that but that so much of our lives is celestial and divine as we spend in the exercise of prayer? For which cause we see that the most comfortable visitations, which God hath sent men from above, have taken especially the times of prayer at their most natural opportunities.

PRAYER: Commemoration Of The Angels

From iBreviary

Christ, the fair glory of the holy Angels,
thou who hast made us, thou who o’er us rulest,
grant of thy mercy unto us thy servants
steps up to Heaven.

Send thy Archangel, Michael, to our succor;
Peacemaker blessed, may he banish from us
striving and hatred, so that for the peaceful all
things may prosper.

Send thy Archangel, Gabriel, the mighty,
herald of Heaven; may he from us mortals
spurn the old serpent, watching o’er the temples
where thou art worshiped.

Send thy Archangel, Raphael, the restorer
of the misguided ways of men who wander,
who at thy biding strengthens soul and body
with thine anointing.

May the blest Mother of our God and Savior,
may the assembly of the saints in glory,
may the celestial companies of Angels
ever assist us.

This he vouchsafe us, God forever blessed,
Father eternal, Son, and Holy Spirit,
whose is the glory which through all creation
ever resoundeth.

Amen.

V. In the sight of the angels I will praise you O God.
R. I will worship at your holy temple and confess your holy name.

SERMON: Why Stand There Looking Up Toward Heaven?, by C. S. Song

From And Their Eyes Are Opened

So when they [the disciples] had come together, they asked him [Jesus], “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.”  When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going and they were gazing up toward Heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward Heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into Heaven.” (Acts 1:6-11)


This story fascinates me.  It has every excitement of a drama, every fascination of mythology, and every challenge to my faith and theology as a Christian.  How do I explain the story to myself, to my children, to worshipers in the pew at the Ascension Day worship service, to those of you in my theology class, and to you all in the chapel today?  And how do I recount the story to those who are not Christian?  I have a suspicion that the story would be more appealing to avid readers in Asia of stories about immortals and supernatural beings than to those of us Christians proud to be members of this scientific and technological world of ours.

First a Story Told by Saint Francis

But the story has nothing to do with immortals and supernatural beings.  It has to do with a person of flesh and blood.  It speaks to the minds and hearts of women and men disheartened, bewildered, and disoriented.  Before taking you with me on a descent from Heaven to Earth, from fantasy to actuality, from the unreal to the real, from skepticism to faith, I would like first to tell you a story.

“Listen, my child,” says Saint Francis to a young novice called Antonio,

Each year at Easter I used to watch Christ’s resurrection.  All the faithful would gather round his tomb and weep, weep inconsolably, beating on the ground to make it open.  And behold!  In the midst of our lamentations the tombstone crumbled to pieces and Christ sprang from the Earth and ascended to Heaven, smiling at us and waving a white banner.  There was only one year I did not see him resurrected.  That year a theologian of consequence, a graduate of the University of Bologna, came to us.  He mounted the pulpit in church and began to elucidate the resurrection for hours on end.  He explained and explained until our heads began to swim; and that year the tombstone did not crumble, and I swear to you, no one saw the resurrection.

How distressing!  How sad!  No one saw the resurrection on that particular Easter Sunday.  I do not know what profound things the important theologian preached to the members of the congregation.  The story does not say.  But, is it that difficult to guess?  Perhaps not.  And if we are honest to ourselves, we may have to admit that our Easter sermon, after much sweat on the brow, has rarely caused the tombstone to crumble and fill the sanctuary and the hearts of worshipers with the presence of the risen Jesus.

If our Easter sermon usually does not cause the tombstone to crumble, how much less our Ascension sermon could cause the risen Jesus to ascend to Heaven on a cloud!  I know my Ascension sermon could not do it.  But why did I choose to do chapel in this Ascension week?  As a matter of fact, I did not choose it.  When I signed up for chapel, this was the only week left vacant.  I had no choice but to take it.  Perhaps my colleagues are wiser than I am.  Or is this punishment for my sin of procrastination?

Crucifixion and Ascension

My problem, and it must be yours also if you find yourself in the same dilemma, is that at first I could make little sense of the story of Jesus’s ascension as Luke’s Gospel told it.  Did Luke himself know what he was telling Theophilus, whom he addressed as “most excellent Theophilus,” and to whom he dedicated both his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles?  I wonder.  This is not his eyewitness account.  He did not see it happen.  It was hearsay.  He could not tell the story like a TV reporter reporting from the scene of what is happening: “This is Luke, reporting for CNN from Bethany, near Jerusalem,” for example.

Was Luke a credulous person?  I do not know.  But he was a physician.  He would perhaps not tell something that has no modicum of truth in it.  He was also something of a historian, and a quite down-to-earth one at that.  Then, why did he conclude his gospel with a story such as Jesus’s ascension, and again begin his Acts of the Apostles with it?  The story must have meant a lot to him. He must have wanted to disclose an important message through the story.  He was doing story theology!  What is then the theology he was doing through this story?  What is the message he tried to communicate to “most excellent Theophilus,” to his readers, all his contemporaries, and to us today?

A story usually has more than one meaning, especially a story of this nature.  The story of Jesus’s ascension, in my view, has to be closely related to the story of Jesus’s crucifixion.  This must be the first thing Luke, the storyteller, tries to drive home to his readers.  He uses expressions such as Jesus “was taken up to Heaven,” “was lifted up,” “has been taken up from you into Heaven.”  Such expressions remind me of how people in Taiwan and China often refer to someone’s passing away as “returning to Heaven.”  Buddhists would say, “returning to Western Heaven.”

But Luke is engaged here in more than a euphemism of death.  Jesus lives.  This is a fact.  Jesus inaugurated the reign of God.  This was his message and his ministry.  Jesus was arrested, put on trial, and sentenced to death.  Eyewitness accounts told how he suffered at the hands of his opponents.  Finally, he was executed.  He died a painful death on the cross.  He died.  He is dead.  He has been taken up to Heaven, euphemistically speaking.  We have to accept Jesus’s death.  Our faith, our life – as individuals, as a community, as a nation – Luke seems to be saying, must begin with the acceptance of Jesus’s death.  Anything else is illusion.  For how can we build a community of faith and a new life for our nation on an illusion?

Not Illusion But Faith

This is important for Luke, the evangelist.  Why?  As far as he knows, most of Jesus’s disciples and followers are living under the illusion that Jesus is not dead, in a false expectation that Jesus is hiding somewhere, biding his time to lead his people against Roman rule.  In his story of Jesus’s ascension Luke has his disciples ask the risen Christ, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  A national dream dies hard.  Misguided patriotism does more harm than good.  This kind of patriotism is dangerous, Luke realized.  It would undermine Jesus’s ministry of God’s reign.  It would reduce Jesus to be no more than one of the national heroes.  It would confuse God’s salvation with national salvation.  The God Jesus did his utmost to help people understand is the God of all nations and peoples.  However, this misguided patriotism would make this God of Jesus once again a tribal God, a sectarian God, a fanatical God in the minds of his followers.

Are we Christians today better than Jesus’s disciples and followers Luke had to address in his day?  Do we really accept the fact that Jesus died, that he is dead?  Are we not often too impatient to move from Good Friday to Easter Sunday?  We are uneasy about the silence that intervenes.  It is merely three days.  But it seems endless.  It seems ages.  We can hardly wait for the arrival of Easter Sunday to sing, “Alleluia, Christ is risen.”  “Victory over the power of sin and darkness!”  “Triumph over despair and death!”  With all Christians, I enjoy Easter Sunday.  Of course I do.  But the Easter Sunday that overshadows Good Friday, the empty tomb that turns Jesus’s death into a farce, the victory that renders Jesus’s defeat on the cross a sham – I seem to see in this one of the root causes of Christian triumphalism.  This triumphalism reveals our inability to accept our more humble place in the world of many cultures and many religions, the unwillingness on the part of many Christians even today to recognize God’s saving activity among men, women, and children who are not Christian.  To us as well as to his contemporaries, Luke is saying, Jesus “has been taken up from us into Heaven,” that Jesus is dead and buried.

God’s Spirit

If Luke wants us to accept Jesus’s death that took place in the past, he also directs us to grasp the future that the death of Jesus brings.  This must be the reason why Luke refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit.  I wonder whether it has puzzled you, but it has always puzzled me: Why does Pentecost have to follow the Ascension?  Why does Jesus have to ascend to Heaven for the Spirit to descend form Heaven?  Is this to say that we are left without the Spirit between the Ascension and Pentecost?  Does this lead us to believe that the world is devoid of the Spirit in this between-time?  But we are told that “a wind from God [the Spirit of God] swept over the face of the waters” in the beginning when God created heavens and the Earth.  Did not God raise men and women to be prophets and fill them with God’s Spirit?  And is not Jesus reported to have said to Nicodemus, a Jewish rabbi: “The wind [the Spirit] blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born from the Spirit.”  This is long before the Ascension and Pentecost.

Is not Luke, then, misleading us here?  Has he become a Pentecostalist before Pentecostalism?  Is he saying that the Spirit to come is different from the Creator-Spirit and the Redeemer-Spirit?  Is he intimating that with the ascension of Jesus we have to begin all over again with the Holy Spirit?  Questions such as these prompt me to read the story of Jesus’s ascension more closely – with a “magnifying glass,” as it were.  I was struck by what Luke reports at this critical point in the story: “For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”  Eureka!  I almost shouted out loud.  John the Baptizer!  This is the clue.  Strange, is it not?  John the Baptizer, no more than a harbinger of Jesus, a lone voice in the wilderness, beheaded by that notorious Herod the tetrarch a long time ago!

How strange!  Luke resurrected this John to play a crucial role in his story of Jesus’s ascension.  But it is not that strange after all.  Do you remember what Luke has John the Baptizer say to the people in the early part of the gospel?  “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  Baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  baptism with the Holy Spirit is not complete without baptism with fire.  This was Jesus’s own baptism.  This was his own ministry.  And that baptism with the Spirit and fire culminated in his death on the cross.  The cross was Jesus’s baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Was Luke reflecting all this when he sat down to write the story of the beginning of the Christian church?  Maybe.  Or, was he very much aware of the Roman Empire that was becoming increasingly hostile to Jesus’s followers?  Maybe also.  Surely he knew of the burning of Rome and the persecution of Christians there in the year 64 C.E.  Peter and Paul probably met their martyred deaths in that imperial city around the year 67.  And the destruction of Jerusalem took place in 70, that tragedy of tragedies and that trauma of traumas in the religious history of Jewish people.  The lives of the followers are going to be under the fire of persecution.

All this could have been utmost in Luke’s mind when he began writing his story of the Christian beginning.  O come, Holy Spirit!  This was his prayer.  This was the cry of his fellow Christians.  Their prayer and their cry developed into the faith in the powerful presence of Jesus – Jesus present with them in the Spirit, the Creator-Spirit, the Redeemer-Spirit, the Spirit to empower them for the ordeals they had to face.

Luke is very agitated.  The situation is critical.  It calls for faith, and it demands action.  But most of Jesus’s disciples and followers seem to be oblivious to all this.  They are not facing what is going to happen to them.  They cannot see what is coming.  All they are doing is gazing toward Heaven, staring at the vacant space, living in the cloud of their dreams and illusions.  Luke feels, to use a Chinese expression, like “an ant on a hot pan,” extremely anxious.  The situation is grave; the time is urgent.  With a master stroke of a story teller, Luke pours out all his fear, his frustration, his passion, and his faith in the question that jolted the disciples and followers of Jesus from their complacency: “[People] of Galilee,” he calls to them, “why do you stand looking up toward Heaven?”

These are magic words.  These words bring them back to reality.  These are words of inspiration.  These words inspire them to be filled with the living presence of Jesus dead and gone.  These are empowering words.  These words empower them to “be my [Jesus’s] witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth,” including that imperial city of Rome.  The sky-gazing is over.  The standstill is broken.  The stalemate is overcome.  The story of Jesus is to be told and retold by generations of women and men.  It is to echo in the world, both in East and in West, in North and in South.  And it is to be part of the stories of people everywhere – stories of the struggle for meaning in this life and in the life to come.

Has “the tombstone crumbled to pieces, and Christ sprung from the Earth and ascended to Heaven, smiling at you and waving a white banner”?  Most probably not.  But I hope at least that we have stopped looking up toward Heaven to find Jesus in our hearts and in our community, working with him who teaches us to pray: “May your rule come, O God, your will be done on Earth, as in Heaven.”

POETRY: No Other Paradise, by Kurt Brown

Pale dawn then banks of cloud shot with light
highway salted to a dry crust the sun a white flame
but no ice the river a broad rippling scintillance
the skyline’s jagged profit chart we wake to our own reality
purely imagined the ghost-life of money war
history’s fractured narrative we had a paradise
it was around here somewhere near blighted derricks
tankers bloated with oil on the far bank
more of the same and where bridges stride
listlessly above the waste raw sky empty of wings
*
standing here in this city this gray sprawling
dismasted island made of baby carriages
and sunken rails stink of scorched rubber howl
of metal Lucite mortar polymer glass
horizon of stainless steel chromium nickel towers
so high they lean in grid on grid finials and brick
cladding the vanished hulls asphalt slips
once porcupined with spars and under pavements
scooped blasted interior of spongiform rock
city of tin cans conurbation of exposed beams
men with lunch boxes dining nonchalantly in air
lives teetering on pylons and the sea’s indulgence
*
slurry on the river a liquid gel and in the park
pigeons huddle by a wall heads stuffed back
into shoulders like rolled socks wind
veers down alleys and mews hurdles buildings
spills into the city’s mold then hardens into towers
catwalks parapets buffeting the few
who scrabble home or off to work is it that difficult
to get from one place to the next tall gusts
bludgeoning cornices cabs the decrepit façade
of Deutsche Evangelisch Lutherische Est. 1859
meanwhile Miss Donna “Mystical Astrologist”
deprived of customers falls asleep over her cards
*
snow circles the pediments handprint of a child
on Fourth Street filled with rain sign on a cellar door
jazz until dawn but dig in one corner and turn up houses
old pastures parading troops riots slums
no longer crowded to know is to guess age on age
everything streams past this palimpsest this eviction
of ghosts and by the frigid beltways prow
nudges prow avenues come apart the past is spliced
onto the present the future snaps like a cable
nidus of incalculable ambitions necropolis of dreams
now sunlight breaks fully on these stone embrasures
*
no silence but steady tumult night or day
skirl of iron blast of brakes wrecking ball
and dredger listen someone’s key rattles in a box
we were born here passing through flesh
to become flesh in the white rush of acetylene
the boom of freight arriving in a bright arpeggio
of taxis departing in the echo of announcements
I didn’t do anything he says I was half asleep
then a gust of air before the train arrives
bristling sound along the tracks like hundreds
of tiny wires shaken together a secret scuttering
the bastard slipped out on me doors close everywhere
and in the freezing air all that was never said
glitters louder than jackhammers probing the street
*
there’s always someplace else to be but where we are
hurrying uptown hurtling down highways
stream like gunwales leaving our old address
while buses slick as carp nose down avenues
helicopters hope from stalks of concrete even the earth
trembles underfoot shuddering with departure
sky-hung scaffolding sways settle under booms
and steel nets coming and going there are clocks
everywhere printed with the details of ephemera
a nickel glints on the sidewalk pressed into stone
*
pipes froze windows cracked it was that cold
laundry hung like sheets of metal on the line
later soot rain the bald sun-scorched arcades
blood stopped in the arteries the intricate veins
of the face squalls blizzards a hundred winters
buried in the mind this isn’t a city it’s the world
built up and demolished icicled and white
someone skis down blanketed ravines the abandoned
offices exposed manholes breathing steam
and later gelid bodies brittle as petrified wood
appear like pharos under elegant pyramids
makeshift ziggurats a mummified doorman stamps
his feet and takes a long-drawn glittering breath
*
praise the filth the narrowing sexual nights
history’s pages thumbed over and over in the street
young girls trudge past gloved hands locked laughter
spangling the air then a child dragging a sled
such storms rise out of the sea to reclaim the town
dragging it under a powdery white iridescent foam
praise the cinder the compact scalloped slush
the incalculable waste box and melon rind
greasy axle and lug nut the flyblown busted armchair
in which no one sits but the bleak fugitive sun
praise ashcan and coal chute brackish gutter and cracked
pane how the brand-new passes through the present
to the harrowing unspeakable dump don’t let go
they giggle turning the corner with linked arms
if you lose someone here you may never see them again
*
angle of earth and our distance from the sun
all these lives pitched outward man in a penthouse
woman in 14-c it was around here somewhere
higher and higher time leans in brimming the dank
projects the rich basilicas someone’s hat
blows off and rolls down the street who isn’t a city
a generation who isn’t a graveyard the flaking
broken stones MOSCOWITZ O’MALLEY
POUDELLE VAN DER SLUIJS VOSZKA
CHORBAJIANI SUDHOLM NJOKU-OBI ZENK
passing through flesh to become flesh mothers
strolling under bare trees fathers turning in the long fall
*
one shop trembles like a wick windows
spewing flame houses in surrounding streets
shudder together like dry leaves
sirens and alarms walls reflecting strobe light
smoke billows out and pours into the sky smell
of the eternal scrapbooks photos letters
files crammed with documents words beginning
to erase themselves the past lifting up and thinning out
the future vast and blue swallowing it whole then nothing
but the pungent odor of burnt wood water sealing us back in
*
Miss Donna wakes in snowlight no one there
only her cat chary and alert as though something might
happen some restless apparition or voice listen
across the water cannons rumble as a ship arrives
ensigns aloft and near the slips drunken song
anarchy of gulls fish market pig stall the butcher’s
litter this island itself a ship breasting time
she hears it in the silent rocking of the shop and now
as the wind luffs rattle of cartwheel bottle chink
blade drawn slowly over stone sound of a dog
from a different century sound of a dog
down the wall the insubstantial dead the multitude
*
if it’s all glass why can’t we see through it
river to river its febrile life exposed tier on tier
into endless air and when we come down
a little drink steadies us anchors us again to the ground
whenever one of my friends succeeds he says
a little something in me dies ghost-life of numbers
all that abstraction trapped in concrete all
that sweat that heartbreak just as the hairs on the head
are numbered the breaths we take going up
we say to spend our day suspended between
heaven and earth how the invisible the bodiless
can crush us story by story floor by floor
*
four a.m. the savage markets aproned men
in boots haul fresh meat hooked aloft packed
plucked bodies skinned sinew and scraped bone
a carcass swings hacked open to a lattice of ribs
across town catfish lie composed in steel bins
near moist hake plush with oil and knots of octopus
glisten in aluminum tubs nothing can appease
the city’s appetites its cold lockers swung wide
mounds of bread like fresh graves stacks of lettuce
squash potatoes leeks trucks arriving with the first
antiseptic light the hauler’s hands bloody
with their work the very stones stained with it
until their hoses wash them clean and the river
profaned with garbage drags its filthy body towards the sea
*
praise the sewers the black scabrous buildings
praise billboards their ripped illuminated smiles
light erupts spills from the center like fire
a spectral phosphorescence leaching the ravenous dark
windows appear statues in the park grow pensive
trees nudge each other the moon swings on its black cord
and on avenues thick with lights chic salons
ignite cheap heraldic logos the city flings its halo
into space a bright tentative exhalation above the roofs
the shivering muffled light scarred with stars
*
a hesitation a hush the rush of traffic slows
Miss Donna lights a candle and stares into her own palm
on the next block St. Bosco’s Elementary spills
children into the street their voices punctuate the dusk
mothers stroll under bare trees and fathers turn
as though they could hear something a bell ringing
in the next century the ghost-life of war if you lose
someone now you may never find them again
for a moment walls tremble leaning into each other
as what-has-been leaches into what-will-come
and in a mailbox somewhere there’s a letter
written with a firm hand bearing news that will wreck a life
meanwhile wrapped in blankets a bum stops
at the corner and squints at a billboard for Clancy’s Whiskey
“a little taste of heaven” to calculate the angle of earth
his exact distance from the sun in the morning
he’ll emerge from his ziggurat of boxes bored stiff
and chastened ready to assume the blessings of his new life
*
o fish-flanked city crux of origins locus of souls
we wake to our own reality just now and always again
train wreck widow’s cry the murderous indictment
banks of light-shot ineffable turrets rise the tide whelms
and pivots praise the hustle the shuck and jive
praise the boulevard’s riot of light who knows his homeland
from these littered streets hold on to your wallet
and don’t look no one in the eye now night lowers
its thickening grit and incoming flights beacon the sky
who can tell his life from this rabble of announcement
from Sin City “Open for Lunch” Kotz Bros. Welding
Raju & Sons 24-hour Tow HairHealth Inc. Nick’s Locks
and Hindleman’s Smoke Shop from no other paradise but here

POETRY: The Half-Finished Heaven, by Tomas Tranströmer

Despondency breaks off its course.
Anguish breaks off its course.
The vulture breaks off its flight.

The eager light streams out,
even the ghosts take a draught.

And our paintings see daylight,
our red beasts of the ice-age studios.

Everything begins to look around.
We walk in the sun in hundreds.

Each man is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.

The endless ground under us.

The water is shining among the trees.

The lake is a window into the earth.

HEAVEN: Reorienting Ourselves To Heaven As Our Home, by Randy Alcorn

From Heaven

I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same. (C. S. Lewis)


When I see ocean fish in an aquarium, I enjoy watching them, but I feel as if something’s wrong.  They don’t belong there.  It’s not their home.  The fish weren’t made for that little glass box; they were made for a great ocean.

I suppose the fish don’t know any better, but I wonder if their instincts tell them that their true home is elsewhere.  I know our instincts tell us that this fallen world isn’t our home – we were made for someplace better.  As we’ve seen, the Bible repeatedly confirms this instinct.

Theologian Donald Bloesch suggests, “Our greatest affliction is not anxiety, or even guilt, but rather homesickness – a nostalgia or ineradicable yearning to be at home with God.”

Christian slaves sang of “goin’ home to live with God,” and a chariot “comin’ fo’ to carry me home.”  Christians have always thought of going to Heaven as going home.  When Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for us, he spoke of building us a home.  To anticipate Heaven, then, we need to understand the meaning of home. Early in the book we touched on it.  Now it’s time to take a closer look as we move toward our conclusion in the next chapter.

What Home Is Like

Have you ever been on a trip that became miserable, where everybody got sick or everything went wrong?  What did you want more than anything?  To go home.  In your imagination you could feel your comfy bed, taste a home-cooked meal, and picture the company of family and friends laughing together in front of the fire, telling stories about what went wrong on your trip.

Home is also about comfort.  It’s a place where we can put on jeans and a sweatshirt and throw ourselves on the couch to relax.  It’s a place we want to be.  As much as I’ve enjoyed traveling to many different countries, I always love to come home.  That craving for home is sweet and deep.  Home is our reference point, what we always come back to.  No matter how much we enjoy our adventures away, we anticipate coming home.  Knowing we can come home is what keeps us going – and that’s what Heaven should do fo us.  It should keep us going because it’s our eternal home, the welcome refuge that awaits us and calls our name.

Home is where friends come to visit.  It’s where we putter, plant gardens, read our favorite books, and listen to music we enjoy.  Home is where I inhale the wonderful aroma of strong, rich coffee every morning, and where Nanci fixes great meals and her amazing apple pie.

I realize it sounds as if I’m romanticizing home.  I know that many people have had terrible experiences at home.  But our true home in Heaven will have all the good things about our Earthly homes, multiplied many times, but none of the bad.

The world says, “You can never go home again.”  It means that while we were gone, home changed and so did we.  Our old house may have been destroyed or sold, been renovated or become run-down.  In contrast, when this life is over – and particularly when we arrive on the New Earth – God’s children will truly be able to come home for the very first time.  Because our home in Heaven will never burn, flood, or be blown away, we’ll never have to wonder whether home will still be there when we return.  The new heavens and New Earth will never disappear.  They’ll give a wonderful permanence to the word, home.

When it comes to our eternal home, we often fail to think Biblically in two ways.  First, we imagine we won’t be fully human and our ultimate home won’t be physical and Earthly.  Second, we imagine that this world as it now is, under the curse, is our ultimate home.  C. S. Lewis wrote, “Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”

If Heaven is truly our home, we should expect it to have the qualities we associate with home.  Home as a term for Heaven isn’t simply a metaphor.  It describes an actual, physical place – a place promised and built by our bridegroom; a place we’ll share with loved ones; a place of fond familiarity and comfort and refuge; a place of marvelous smells and tastes, fine food, and great conversation; a place of contemplation and interaction and expressing the gifts and passions that God has given us.  It’ll be a place of unprecendented freedom and adventure.

The unbiblical stereotypes of Heaven as a vague, incorporeal existence hurt us far more than we realize.  Among other things, they diminish our anticipation of Heaven and keep us from believing it is truly our home.  Bible scholar Graham Scroggie was right: “Future existence is not a purely spiritual existence; it demands a life in a body, and in a material universe.”  Though many of us affirm a belief in the resurrection of the dead, we don’t know what that really means.  Our doctrine dresses up men and women in bodies, then gives them no place to go.  Instead of the New Earth as our eternal home, we offer an intangible and utterly unfamiliar Heaven that’s the opposite of home.  No wonder there is such ambivalence and uneasiness about Heaven in our churches.

Going to the Party

Imagine someone takes you to a party.  You see a few friends there, enjoy a couple of good conversations, a little laughter, and some decent appetizers.  The party’s all right, but you keep hoping it will get better.  Give it another hour, and maybe it will.  Suddenly, your friend says, “I need to take you home.”

Now?

You’re disappointed – nobody wants to leave a party early – but you leave, and your friend drops you off at your house.  As you approach the door, you’re feeling all alone and sorry for yourself.  As you open the door and reach for the light switch, you sense someone’s there.  Your heart’s in your throat.  You flip on the light.

“Surprise!”  Your house is full of smiling people, familiar faces.

It’s a party – for you.  You smell your favorites – barbecued ribs and pecan pie right out of the oven.  The tables are full.  It’s a feast.  You recognize the guests, people you haven’t seen for a long time.  Then, one by one, the people you most enjoyed at the other party show up at your house, grinning.  This turns out to be the real party.  You realize that if you’d stayed longer at the other party, as you’d wanted, you wouldn’t be at the real party – you’d be away from it.

Christians faced with terminal illness or imminent death often feel they’re leaving the party before it’s over.  They have to go home early.  They’re disappointed, thinking of all they’ll miss when they leave.  But the truth is, the real party is underway at home – precisely where they’re going.  They’re not the ones missing the party; those of us left behind are.  (Fortunately, if we know Jesus, we’ll get there eventually.)

One by one, occasionally a few of us at a time, we’ll disappear from this world.  Those we leave behind will grieve that their loved ones have left home.  In reality, however, their believing loved ones aren’t leaving home, they’re going home.  They’ll be home before us.  We’ll be arriving at the party a little later.

Remember, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”  He said, “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  Laughter and rejoicing – a party awaits us.  Don’t you want to join it?  Yet even that party, in the intermediate Heaven, is a preliminary celebration.  It’s like the welcome at the airport for a woman who’s come home for her wedding.  Sure, she’s home now, and it’s wonderful, but what she’s really looking forward to is the wedding, and the wedding feast, which will be followed by moving into her new home with her beloved bridegroom.

To be in resurrected bodies on a resurrected Earth in resurrected friendships, enjoying a resurrected culture with the resurrected Jesus – now that will be the ultimate party!  Everybody will be who God made them to be – and none of us will ever suffer or die again.  As a Christian, the day I die will be the best day I’ve ever lived.  But it won’t be the best day I ever will live.  Resurrection day will be far better.  And the first day on the New Earth – that will be one big step for mankind, one giant leap for God’s glory.

Longing For Resurrection

I’ve never been to Heaven, yet I miss it.  Eden’s in my blood.  The best things of life are souvenirs from Eden, appetizers of the New Earth.  There’s just enough of them to keep us going, but never enough to make us satisfied with the world as it is, or ourselves as we are.  We live between Eden and the New Earth, pulled toward what we once were and what we yet will be.

As Christians, we’re linked to Heaven in ways too deep to comprehend.  Somehow, according to Ephesians 2:6, we’re already seated with Christ in Heaven.  So we can’t be satisfied with less.

Desire is a signpost pointing to Heaven.  Every longing for better health is a longing for the New Earth.  Every longing for romance is a longing for the ultimate romance with Christ.  Every desire for intimacy is a desire for Christ.  Every thirst for beauty is a thirst for Christ.  Every taste of joy is but a foretaste of a greater and more vibrant joy than can be found on Earth as it is now.  A. W. Tozer said, “In nature, everything moves in the direction of its hungers.  In the spiritual world it is not otherwise.  We gravitate toward our inward longing, provided of course that those longings are strong enough to move us.”

That’s why we need to spend our lives cultivating our love for Heaven.  That’s why we need to meditate on what scripture says about Heaven, read books on it, have Bible studies, teach classes, and preach sermons on it.  We need to talk to our children about Heaven.  When we’re camping, hiking, or driving, when we’re at a museum, a sporting event, or a theme park, we need to talk about what we see around us as signposts to the New Earth.

When we think of Heaven as unearthly, our present lives seem unspiritual, like they don’t matter.  When we grasp the reality of the New Earth, our present, Earthly lives suddenly matter.  Conversations with loved ones matter.  The taste of food matters.  Work, leisure, creativity, and intellectual stimulation matter.  Rivers and trees and flowers matter.  Laughter matters.  Service matters.  Why?  Because they are eternal.

Life on Earth matters not because it’s the only life we have, but precisely because it isn’t – it’s the beginning of a life that will continue without end.  It’s the precursor of life on the New Earth.  Eternal life doesn’t begin when we die – it has already begun.  Life is not, as Macbeth supposed, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  Informed by the doctrines of creation, redemption, resurrection, and the New Earth, our present lives take on greater importance, infusing us with purpose.  Understanding Heaven doesn’t just tell us what to do, but why.  What God tells us about our future lives enables us to interpret our past and serve him in our present.

Consider the old proverb, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  It assumes that the only Earthly pleasures we’ll ever enjoy must be obtained now.  As Christians, we should indeed eat, drink, and be merry – and also sacrifice, suffer, and die – all to the glory of God.  In doing so, we’re preparing for an eternal life, then, is not our last chance to eat, drink, and be merry – rather, it is the last time our eating, drinking, and merrymaking can be corrupted by sin, death, and the curse.

We need to stop acting as if Heaven were a myth, an impossible dream, a relentlessly dull meeting, or an unimportant distraction from real life.  We need to see Heaven for what it is: the realm we’re made for.  If we do, we’ll embrace it with contagious joy, excitement, and anticipation.

Heaven: Our Source of Optimism

Secular optimists are wishful thinkers.  Discovering the present payoffs of optimism, they conduct seminars and write books on thinking positively.  Sometimes they capitalize on optimism by becoming rich and famous.  But then what happens?  They eventually get old or sick, and when they die they go to hell forever.  Their optimism is an illusion, for it fails to take eternity into account.

The only proper foundation for optimism is the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.  Any other foundation is sand, not rock.  It will not bear the weight of our eternity.

However, if we build our lives on the redemptive work of Christ, we should all be optimists.  Why?  Because even our most painful experience in life is but a temporary setback.  Our pain and suffering may or may not be relieved in this life, but they will certainly be relieved in the next.  That is Christ’s promise – no more death or pain; he will wipe away all our tears.  He took our sufferings on himself so that one day he might remove all suffering from us.  That is the Biblical foundation for our optimism.  No Christian should be a pessimist.  We should be realists – focused on the reality of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and his promises, Biblical realism is optimism.

Knowing that our suffering will be relieved doesn’t make it easy, but it does make it bearable.  It allows joy in the midst of suffering.  Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you, and insult you.  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in Heaven.”  Paul said, “I rejoice in my sufferings,” and James said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”  The apostles didn’t enjoy suffering, but they rejoiced in the midst of it, because they trusted God’s sovereign plan and they looked forward to Christ’s return, their bodily resurrection, and the redemption of all creation.

Christ said to his disciples, who would suffer much, “Rejoice that your names are written in Heaven.”  Our optimism is not that of the “health and wealth” gospel, which claims that God will spare us of suffering here and now.  Peter said, “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”  Christ’s future glory, in which we will participate, is the reason for our present rejoicing while suffering.

Anticipating Heaven doesn’t eliminate pain, but it lessens it and puts it in perspective.  Meditating on Heaven is a great pain reliever.  It reminds us that suffering and death are temporary conditions.  Our existence will not end in suffering and death – they are but a gateway to our eternal life of unending joy.  The Biblical doctrine of Heaven is about the future, but it has tremendous benefits here and now.  If we grasp it, it will shift our center of gravity and radically change our perspective on life.  This is what the Bible calls “hope,” a word used six times in Romans 8:20-25, the passage in which Paul says that all creation longs for our resurrection and the world’s coming redemption.

Don’t place your hope in favorable circumstances, which cannot and will not last.  Place your hope in Christ and his promises.  He will return, and we will be resurrected to life on the New Earth, where we will behold God’s face and joyfully serve him forever.

Reepicheep’s Quest

In C. S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a ship sails east in search of lost countrymen and new adventures.  But the heart of one passenger, Reepicheep, the valiant mouse, is steadfastly set on a greater adventure.  He has one destination in mind: Aslan’s country.

From his youth, Reepicheep was taught in a poem that one day he would journey to the far east and find what he’d always longed for:

Where sky and water meet,
Where the waves grow sweet,
Doubt not, Reepicheep,
To find all you seek,
There is the utter East.

After reciting the poem to his shipmates, Reepicheep says, “I do not know what it means.  But the spell of it has been on me all my life.”

Late in the journey, when they have sailed farther than anyone on record, Reepicheep is thrown into the sea.  To his surprise, the water tastes sweet.  His excitement is unrestrainable.  He’s so close to Aslan’s country, he can literally taste it.

Earlier in the voyage, Reepicheep had expressed his utter abandonment to the cause of seeking Aslan’s country: “While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader.  When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle.  When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws.  And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”

We can identify with Reepicheep’s glorious quest, because the spell of Heaven has been on us all our lives, as well, even if we have sometimes confused it with lesser desires.  At the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep’s traveling companions watch him disappear over the horizon.  Does he make it to Aslan’s country?  In the final book of the Narnia series, we discover the answer, which confirms what we already knew in our hearts.

Through the Doorway

When five-year-old Emily Kimball was hospitalized and heard she was going to die, she started to cry.  Even though she loved Jesus and wanted to be with him, she didn’t want to leave her family behind.  Then her mother had an inspired idea.  She asked Emily to step through a doorway into another room, and she closed the door behind her.  One at a time, the entire family started coming through the door to join her.  Her mother explained that this was how it would be.  Emily would go ahead to Heaven and then the rest of the family would follow.  Emily understood.  She would be the first to go through death’s door.  Eventually, the rest of the family would follow, probably one by one, joining her on the other side.

The analogy would have been even more complete if the room that Emily entered had had someone representing Jesus to greet her – along with departed loved ones and Bible characters and angels.  Also, it would’ve helped if the room she walked into was breathtakingly beautiful, and contained pictures of a New Earth, vast and unexplored, where Emily and her family and friends would one day go to live with Jesus forever.

Every person reading this book is dying.  Perhaps you have reason to believe that death will come very soon.  You may be troubled, feeling uncertain, or unready to leave.  Make sure of your relationship with Jesus Christ.  Be certain that you’re trusting him alone to save you – not anyone or anything else, and certainly not any good works you’ve done.  And then allow yourself to get excited about what’s on the other side of death’s door.

I’ve often read at memorial services this depiction of a believer’s death:

I’m standing on the seashore.  A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.  She’s an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other.  And then I hear someone at my side saying, “There, she’s gone.”

Gone where?  Gone from my sight, that is all.  She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side.  And just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination.  Her diminished size is in me, not, in her.

And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she’s gone,” there are other eyes watching her coming, and there are other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

And that is dying.

The place of our arrival will be beautiful, though temporary, place where we’ll await the culmination of history: the return of the risen Jesus, who will resurrect us.  When his millennial reign is accomplished (whether that’s a nonliteral present reign or a literal thousand-year future reign), we’ll join him in ruling the New Earth, free of sin and the curse.

Five months before he died, C. S. Lewis wrote to a woman who feared that her own death was imminent.  Lewis said, “Can you not see death as a friend and deliverer?  What is there to be afraid of?  Your sins are confessed.  Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret?  There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.  Our Lord says to you, ‘Peace, child, peace.  Relax.  Let go.  I will catch you.  Do you trust me so little?’  Of course, this may not be the end.  Then make it a good rehearsal.”

Lewis signed the letter, “Yours (and like you, a tired traveler, near the journey’s end).”

We see life differently when we realize that death isn’t a wall but a turnstile; a small obstacle that marks a great beginning.  Calvin Miller put it beautifully:

I once scorned ev’ry fearful thought of death,
When it was but the end of pulse and breath,
But now my eyes have seen that past the pain
There is a world that’s waiting to be claimed.
Earthmaker, Holy, let me now depart,
For living’s such a temporary art.
And dying is but getting dressed for God,
Our graves are merely doorways cut in sod.

POETRY: Refusing Heaven, by Jack Gilbert

The old women in black at early Mass in winter
are a problem for him. He could tell by their eyes
they have seen Christ. They make the kernel
of his being and the clarity around it
seem meager, as though the needs girders
to hold up his unusable soul. But he chooses
against the Lord. He will not abandon his life.
Not his childhood, not the ninety-two bridges
across the two rivers of his youth. Nor the mills
along the banks where he became a young man
as he worked. The mills are eaten away, and eaten
again by the sun and its rusting. He needs them
even though they are gone, to measure against.
The silver is worn down to the brass underneath
and is the better for it. He will gauge
by the smell of concrete sidewalks after night rain.
He is like an old ferry dragged on to the shore,
a home in its smashed grandeur, with the giant beams
and joists. Like a wooden ocean out of control.
A beached heart. A cauldron of cooling melt.

POETRY: The Hereafter, by August Kleinzahler

At the gates to the Hereafter,
a rather drab affair, might as well be a union hall
in south Milwaukee, but with shackled
sweating bodies along the walls,
female, chiefly, and not at all miserable,
straining like bored sultanas at their fetters,
each of them singing a separate song.
A Semitic chap—the greeter,  I suppose—
gives me the quick once-over
and most amused he seems to be. Has me figured.
Not unlike a gent I met only last week,
a salesman at a stereo shop on Broadway.
So, he says. Nothing more.
Sew buttons, says I, in a cavalier mood
and why not.
Ushers me into a tiny cinema,
a two-seater, really quite deluxe,
a great big Diet Coke in the cupholder,
fizzing away.
O.K.? he asks.
I nod and the film unrolls.
A 20-million-dollar home movie it is,
featuring yours truly: at the foot
of the stairs with the dog, mounting
Josette in a new Smyrna love nest,
a fraught kitchen showdown with Mom,
the suicide, car wreck, home run.
You know what these things are like:
the outlandish hairdos, pastel bathroom fixtures.
The editing is out of this world,
the whole shebang in under an hour:
the air-raid drill on Wednesday morning,
1957, when Tito wet his pants;
there I am, beside myself with laughter,
miserable little creature.
The elemental, slow-motion machinery
of character’s forcing house.
Even with all the fancy camera angles,
jump cuts and the rest,
might as well be a chain of short features:
Animal Husbandry, Sexual Hygiene,
Lisboa by Night…
What a lot of erections, voiding, pretzels,
bouncing the ball against the stoop.
She really did love you, all along.
These jealousies and rages of yours,
like a disgusting skin condition
that never goes away.
You, you
What catalogs of failure, self-deception
And then the lights come back on,
likewise the choir’s splintered polyphony,
with its shards of Sprechstimme, the Ronettes, whatnot,
and in the air around us
something like the odor of a freshly spent cartridge,
when my minder asks brightly,
How about another Coke?

POETRY: The Empty Cup, by Thomas Edward Brown

Fly away, bark,
Over the sea!
Take thou my grief,
Take it with thee!

Beat it afar
Unto the shore
Where the old griefs are
For evermore!
O, it was hard!
Take it away—
Pressed on my heart
By night and by day.
I will not have it;
Let it go, let it go!
Shall I have nothing
But wailing and woe?

Let it be, let it be!
O, bring it again!
Bring my sorrow to me,
Bring weeping and pain!
Bring my sorrow to me—
After all, it is mine
O God of my heart,
I will not repine.
For I feel such a lack,
And I am such a stone—
Bring it back, bring it back!
It is better to groan
With my old, old load
Than to search within,
And find nothing there
But folly and sin.
O, I cannot bear
This empty cup:
Fill it up! fill it up!
Fill my soul, fill my soul!
And I will bless
The hand that filleth
Mine emptiness.

HEAVEN: Heaven Is Fullness Of Communion With God, by Pope John Paul II

 

Heaven as the fullness of communion with God was the theme of the Holy Father’s catechesis at the General Audience of 21 July 1999.


One:

When the form of this world has passed away, those who have welcomed God into their lives and have sincerely opened themselves to his love, at least at the moment of death, will enjoy that fullness of communion with God which is the goal of human life.

As the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church teaches, “this perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity, this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels, and all the blessed is called “the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.”

Today we will try to understand the Biblical meaning of “Heaven” in order to have a better understanding of the reality to which this expression refers.

Two:

In biblical language “Heaven,” when it is joined to the Earth,” indicates part of the universe. Scripture says about creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.”

Heaven is the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God

Metaphorically speaking, Heaven is understood as the dwelling-place of God, who is thus distinguished from human beings. He sees and judges from the heights of Heaven and comes down when he is called upon. However the Biblical metaphor makes it clear that God does not identify himself with Heaven, nor can he be contained in it; and this is true, even though in some passages of the First Book of the Maccabees “Heaven” is simply one of God’s names.

The depiction of Heaven as the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God is joined with that place to which believers, through grace, can also ascend, as we see in the Old Testament accounts of Enoch and Elijah. Thus Heaven becomes an image of life in God. In this sense Jesus speaks of a “reward in Heaven,” and urges people to “lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven.”

Three:

The New Testament amplifies the idea of Heaven in relation to the mystery of Christ. To show that the Redeemer’s sacrifice acquires perfect and definitive value, the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus “passed through the heavens,” and “entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into Heaven itself.” Since believers are loved in a special way by the Father, they are raised with Christ and made citizens of Heaven. It is worthwhile listening to what the Apostle Paul tells us about this in a very powerful text: “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the Heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” The fatherhood of God, who is rich in mercy, is experienced by creatures through the love of God’s crucified and risen son, who sits in Heaven on the right hand of the Father as Lord.

Four:

After the course of our Earthly life, participation in complete intimacy with the Father thus comes through our insertion into Christ’s paschal mystery. Saint Paul emphasizes our meeting with Christ in Heaven at the end of time with a vivid spatial image: “Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

Sacramental life is anticipation of Heaven

In the context of Revelation, we know that the “Heaven” or “happiness” in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father that takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit.

It is always necessary to maintain a certain restraint in describing these “ultimate realities” since their depiction is always unsatisfactory. Today, personalist language is better suited to describing the state of happiness and peace we will enjoy in our definitive communion with God.

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church sums up the church’s teaching on this truth: “By his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has opened Heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his Heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ.”

Five:

This final state, however, can be anticipated in some way today in sacramental life, whose center is the Eucharist, and in the gift of self through fraternal charity. If we are able to enjoy properly the good things that the Lord showers upon us every day, we will already have begun to experience that joy and peace that one day will be completely ours. We know that on this Earth everything is subject to limits, but the thought of the “ultimate” realities helps us to live better the “penultimate” realities. We know that as we pass through this world we are called to seek “the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God,” in order to be with him in the eschatological fulfillment, when the Spirit will fully reconcile with the Father “all things, whether on Earth or in Heaven.”