Discussing the reality of angels is difficult for me. I find it difficult for a number of reasons.
Not that long ago I strolled through the gift shop at the National Cathedral. There were books and pictures, statues, and stuffed angels. There were also books and pictures, and other paraphenalia about dragons. And fairies. And unicorns.
I wanted to get down on my knees and ask the child who had the feet of a green dragon grasped in her hands whether or not she thought dragons were real. And then I wanted to ask her if she thought angels were real.
If dragons and angels are being peddled side-by-side, are we not, by doing this, equating the two? Isn’t the blatent message to child and adult alike that angels are just silly, nonsensical creatures, the thought of which can bring a smile to your face. But who do not, in the end, actually exist.
I worry about this approach to an entity that is described and characterized all throughout scripture. Is God trying to pull a fast one on us by having them play a part of his history? Do they serve no purpose in our understanding of God except as perhaps a relatively meaningless spirit, much like Cupid?
The other difficulty I have with the discussion of angels is that it’s a hard topic to talk about. I have studied them somewhat in my visions, but it’s just a general understanding, and, like other matters, I don’t question their reality. Why would God teach me about them, otherwise? For me, God has never been one to read me a bedtime story. My visions are about work. About study. About reality.
And so it is, for me, that angels are not only a vital part of God’s story, they are an actual means for us, in our bodies, to connect with God in his magnificence. They are yet another indescribably beautiful grace that God gives us, in support of our love and our lives.
Gabriel, for Christians, is the one who not only delivers explanations of visions to Daniel (what a handy angel he would be to any struggling mystic), he is the one to foretell the births of John the Baptist and Jesus.
He is the one who looks into the faces of those who cannot understand, cannot believe, cannot even breathe in the presence of an angel who relates such stupendous news.
Elizabeth, John’s mother, is barren. She is not able to bear children.
Mary is to conceive a child supernaturally, as it were, and her husband is to stand by and support this happening.
Gabriel is the one who shatters their understanding of the world around them. He is the one who shines the light of God into their hearts and imaginations and leads them into an expanded experience of God.
Gabriel is the angel of the incarnation. He is also seen as the angel of mercy, and the angel of the power of God. He describes himself as the one who stands before God. What this exactly means is for us to meditate on.
The one who stands before God.
He’s also the one who strikes Zachariah mute for expressing his disbelief. Power is, after all, power.
When we look at how we live, how much time do we give to making a place for angels in our lives? How many times do we pray to an angel for guidance or assistance? How do we make room for angels in our homes, our churches, or our cathedrals?
It’s necessary for us to do all these things: to make a safe and welcoming place for angels, to give them room to be with us, to assign them ways to serve us. The more that we encourage our hearts and minds to make room for angels, the more angels can function in our lives and the lives of those around us.
And isn’t what this world needs, perhaps more than anything else spiritually, is the full functioning of those beings who can pierce the darkness of disbelief, and give us opportunities to gaze on the light of God directly?
Here are two hymns to Gabriel:Gabriel, commander of the heavenly hosts, we who are unworthy, beseech you, by your prayers encompass us beneath the wings of your immaterial glory, and faithfully preserve us who fall down and cry to you: “Deliver us from all harm, for you are the commander of the powers on high!” Supreme commander Gabriel, you are the glorious intercessor and servant before the all-radiant, worthy, all-powerful, infinite and awesome Trinity. Ever pray now that we may be delivered from all tribulations and torments, so that we may cry out to you: “Rejoice, protection of your servants!”
And as we say at mass,
Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of Heaven, we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you, O God.