From A Tree Full Of Angels
My morning stroll has taken me farther than I had intended. Sauntering up the hill, wading through the autumn leaves, I breathe in the crisp morning air. It is just dawn. Standing still for a moment, I see the first rays of sunlight shimmering through a silver maple tree. It is truly a moment of wonder, resplendent with light. I stand gazing as one in the midst of a vision. Suddenly I am uncertain whether those golden arms swaying in the morning sunlight are tree branches or angel wings. Such shining I find overpowering. My wondering heart is filled with joy.
And then in a twinkling I’m certain. I am standing before a tree full of angels dazzling me with their glorious presence. Bright wings of fire all aglow. Such beauty! Celestial bodies trembling in the trees! Trembling in awe over the beauty of a world that I take for granted. A tree bespangled with glory! Radiant Light! Angel wings, like stars, glistening in every branch. It’s gold and silver everywhere I look.
So what do I do? What do I do with this vision that Heaven has blessed me with? If I am an adult I keep very quiet about this vision, carefully guarding my reputation. I tell no one. If I am a child, or if I have a child’s heart, I cannot contain the vision. I shout it from the rooftops. I say, “Listen, everybody! I saw a tree full of angels shining like stars in the night.”
Can you not believe this? Come now, don’t be a cynic. Your heart was made for deep things. Your entire being was designed for visions. But if you cannot believe, you are not alone in your unbelief. William Blake’s father had some difficulty, too.
It happened to William Blake once when he was rambling over the hills of Dulwich. Being yet a mere child he was not inhibited about his vision and ran quickly to tell his parents the joyful tidings. “I saw a tree filled with angels.” His father was about to punish him for telling lies. But his mother, whose heart was less divided and so more able to see to the depths of things, saved him. She rescued him from his father’s blindness.
It is so like adults not to be able to tell the difference between a vision and a mirage.
Artists are those who have visions. There is something of the artist in each of us. Artists have hungry eyes and hungry hearts, and on some days when they are purifying their eyes and hearts for deeper seeing, they choose to have hungry stomachs as well. Fasting empties them so that they can see the truth more clearly.
The poets and the saints, artists of all kinds, are ripe for visions because they are always hungry. They are hungry for truth. Their entire beings are filled with hunger, hunger to know, to understand, to create. They are hungry to see to the depths of things. They are not satisfied with our ordinary dim way of seeing.
A wonderful example of our dim way of seeing is given in Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. Emily, who has died, wants to come back to the land of the living and relive one day of her life. The stage manager knows the heartache she will experience and is not enthusiastic about her request, but Emily is determined. She chooses her twelfth birthday to return. It is indeed a heartache as she sees how myopic human beings really are, how they simply do not have time to look at one another. At one point she pleads with her mother to look at her for just one moment with undistracted eyes.
Watching so much loveliness going on in the midst of such blindness proves to be too much for her. In desperation she asks to return to her grave. Tearfully, she asks if any human beings ever fully realize life while they live it. The stage manager gives a sad “No,” and then as if remembering the redeemers of the human race, he suggests that the poets and saints come closest to tasting the fullness of life.