When I pack away the Christmas lights and ornaments I will leave the angels behind. I like them around to remind me, when the media relentlessly shouts fear-filled bad news, that there are other realities. Don’t be afraid.
Angels remind me that there are brilliant, brave, surprising and creative things going on, too. They remind me to write about imaginative, hopeful people, events and organizations.
Once, I set out to learn more about biblical angels. For a time, I enjoyed the research, but I was eventually bewildered and discouraged when I saw an avalanche of angel paraphernalia coming at me in gift shops, magazines, lawn ornaments, everywhere! Angel cards, angel books, angel teddy bears, parking angels. Had Valentine’s Day gone wild? Were people actually shopping for their very own guardian angel? Angel power seemed to shrink. This kind of angel would never smack you in the heart and send you flying to your knees. If one of these cutesy Cupids had appeared to Mary, she would have thought she was getting a Hallmark card, not a message from God.
The sacred was being reshaped, tamed and made manageable. I wondered if it was because we really are afraid of the power of angels. But that’s the very reason we need angels in the first place.
In spite of some sappy angel depictions, I still love them. Recently, I was delighted to find Nova Scotia artist Geoff Butler’s book The Look of Angels: Angels in Art, which is full of beautiful full-colour art and sketches. His sense of whimsey and of the sacred are refreshing and profound. The haunting cover is one of my favourite paintings. A naked angel sits shivering atop a chimney. It is snowing. The painting is called “Out in the Cold.” Another favourite is of a phone booth perched on rocks overlooking the sea. Inside it, an angel speaks on the phone: “The Voice of an Angel.”
My mother once heard the voice of an angel. The experience was so powerful that she didn’t tell anyone about it for years. Mom had delivered a baby boy who lived but three days. “Alone in my hospital room,” she recalled, “I became aware of a warm, comforting presence.” The angel made her understand that all would be well. She was not to fear her grief.
In her Advent introit, designated lay minister Nancy Chegus of St. Albert United in Alberta writes, “We gather to hear a word of hope ascending upon this flame. To hear again the angel news, ‘Do not be afraid.’” Exactly.
Happy New Year.