Angel

Entertaining Angels

Years ago I took a class on angels at the then Tallahassee Bible Institute. It was taught by a lovely woman who had experienced angels since she was a young child. Having grown up at Riverside Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, I had not been taught much about angels and do not recall an emphasis on the topic at Southern Seminary where I earned my Masters of Divinity degree. But my then teenaged daughter was interested in the class and it was a joy to attend it together. I remember being surprised at the many biblical references to angels the instructor shared. They are mentioned in almost half of the biblical books with more than 300 occurrences of the word. I recall being intrigued and moved by the number of people in the class who had an angel story that had impacted their lives for the good. But what I most remember was what the teacher shared with me about my daughter one evening after class. The week prior, out of earshot of my daughter, I asked her if my daughter had an angel. The teacher had told us that she could sometimes see angels that accompanied people. When I asked her she said that she would need to pray about this request. She said that she had in the past responded in the moment to someone who asked her about the angels she could see and that she felt her response was not helpful in that instance. She told me she would give it prayerful consideration and let me know next week.

I couldn’t help but wonder all week how she might respond. She could have felt led not to share at all. She could tell me that my daughter was not accompanied by an angel or perhaps that she was. At the end of class, before I could even ask her, she smiled at me and said simply, “Yes, and he is big.” I felt relief and gratitude at the time and though I do not think of this story often, when I do, I am comforted all over again.

I have never seen an angel who isn’t an earthly type. And beyond that particular class that I took some twenty years ago and a subsequent class on angels that I asked the instructor to teach at East Hill Baptist Church when I was on staff there, I have not focused much time researching the topic. I have in the course of my ministry at Big Bend Hospice met others who have seen angels. Patients as they are leaving this world have shared about the presence of angels surrounding them and it always seems to be comforting to them and those they love. One person in particular who had been so limited by his disease progression he was bedbound, sat straight up in the bed and raised his arms to greet angels to the amazement of us all. There is so much more going on in this world than what meets the eye or can be explained and it seems to me important for us to remain open to the mystery and wonder of life on all levels.

On September 29 some Christians celebrate Michaelmas or St. Michael’s and the Angels Day. Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans, along with Greek Orthodox Christians (on November 8), all observe or include this day in their liturgical calendar. It is the oldest of all angel festivals. Michael, mentioned five times in Christian scripture, is considered the chief of the angels and is considered an archangel in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Celebrations of Michael include recounting stories of Michael from scripture, enjoying festal meals, often incorporating goose and bread made with harvested grains, and thanking God for the ways in which angels strengthen and protect us. In ancient art, the Archangel Michael is often portrayed with the scales of justice and a sword, representing the importance of balance and courage, an emphasis on this lesser-known holy day which also connects us to the fall harvest and the earth.

Perhaps the most well-known verse of scripture about angels is a verse in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament encouraging us to treat all people with kindness, because you may be entertaining angels without knowing it. While a timely word about the importance of kindness, it also seems like affirmation that angels could be more prevalent than some of us have allowed. I know that I remain grateful that my daughter is accompanied by an angel and a big one at that. Happy St. Michael’s and the Angels Day.