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.”