Do I believe in angels?

I found myself asking this question this morning as I prepared to read Matins in the church office.  And I wasn’t sure I could answer the question.

Certainly I believe in angels in the root sense of the word, the idea that there are messengers from God.  I’ve talked about my daughter Audrey functioning as an angel in this sense.  She let me know that I did not get a call, where there was a three-month deadlock in making a decision among the finalists, as an incidental afterthought (after she let me know I needed to talk to her mother about something important to Audrey) when I returned from a trip.  I’m not sure there was a better way to hear this.

But today we are celebrating St. Michael and All Angels – a first class feast in our calendar.  And, aside from the fact that it seems odd to me to call an angelic being a saint, I found myself asking if I believed that there were a separate class of angelic beings.  And in spite of the fact that I have served at a St. Michael’s Church (in Alturas), I didn’t really have an answer.

So I found Sam Portaro’s take on this (in Brightest and Best) interesting.  He talked about two of the lessons appointed for this feast:  the story of Jacob’s dream (Jacob’s ladder) of angels ascending and descending on a ladder from earth to heaven in Genesis, and the story of “war in heaven” where Michael overthrows the devil in Revelation.  He says:  “They do not have the ring of substantiated proof.  They are, to be perfectly blunt, make-believe.”

He then goes on to talk in some depth about how limited our imaginations have become, and how “living in a time of terrible persecution and turmoil, the vision of victory for God, the belief that God is winning despite all the losses piling up so near at hand, sustains Revelation’s author and gives meaning to a difficult life.”

And that does seem to speak to our times.

I found myself thinking about how we live into the future that we imagine and hold in our minds – whether we’re talking about businesses or churches or family life.  We begin to live the future we imagine.  If we imagine more of the same, that’s where we head.  If we imagine something different emerging, that’s where we head.  That’s the context for the so-called “seven last words of a dying church:”  we’ve never done it that way before.  So often we look at our present, or even our recent past, and we uncritically make it our vision of our future.  And that’s a good way to die.

That still doesn’t answer the question about whether or not there is a separate class of angelic beings.  I think maybe I’m agnostic on that question.  There isn’t a lot in the Bible about them.  There isn’t much in my personal life about them – and what there is is subjective, not subject to verification or proof.

I like the idea of guardian angels.  I like the baptismal image of the anointing with a cross on our foreheads marking us as God’s own being visible in the world of the Spirit, and angels walking before us throughout our lives saying “make way for the image of God.”  I like the idea of something that moves us out of the injuries and difficulties and limitations that sometimes seem to define our lives, and make us think about and imagine and live into God’s vision for God’s creation.

And maybe that’s the function of God’s messengers, the angels, whatever class of being they may be:  to help us see the world through God’s eyes, to help us imagine the world as it could be, to give us the vision to walk and live into the future in God’s mind.

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