Father Nicholas Lang
The Solemnity of St. Michael & All Angels
“It’s all in your imagination!” How many times has someone said that to you? How often might you have said it yourself? The question has a negative connotation and that is unfortunate because our imagination is the wonderful capacity to form mental pictures of the world and to envision new realities. It is God’s way of allowing us to dream.
The Reverend Barbara Brown Taylor likens it to “a child roaming the neighborhood on a free afternoon, following the smell of fresh bread in an oven, then the glint of something bright in the grass—led by curiosity, by hunger, by hope, to explore the given world from its highest branches to its deepest roots.”
Children are experts in the realm of the imagination. They can drape towels over their shoulders and be instantly transformed into kings and queens in ermine capes with crooked aluminum foil crowns atop their little heads. They have this natural ability to use all their senses and to see a world full of wonders where we adults typically see only stark reality. The blessing of childhood is that rare gift to be able to surrender your certainty that you already know what everything is for and approach each thing you encounter with awe and amazement.
Imagination produces images—images of ourselves, of other people, and of the world. Some of these swim out of our unconscious ramblings and others are introduced to us by such persons and entities as parents, teachers, television, and, one’s faith tradition.
The scriptures and our liturgy are full of images and today we celebrate another image in scripture—Angels—on this wonderful feast of St. Michael and All Angels. There are angels we celebrate today who have gained fame and familiarity because of their role in salvation history like Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael about whom we in that great hymn, “Christ, the fair glory of the holy angels.” And there are angels we celebrate today who remain nameless and fameless except to the ones whose lives they have touched by their commitment to discipleship and how that is lived in simple acts of kindness, gentleness, and compassion. We all know at least a few.
The reading from Revelations recounts the fight between the forces of good and evil; Michael and his angels against the Devil, and even though our Anglican theology about angels is not very concrete, traditionally we have looked on these heavenly spirits as companions on our life journey—though most of the time these incidents are related to events in the Gospel like when an angel tells Mary she will give birth to the Savior or when Joseph was warned by an angel about King Herod’s evil intentions.
Just as Jacob experienced God’s presence in his encounter with the angels, I believe that God continues to provide us with out of the ordinary, unexpected, maybe even unnerving encounters; encounters by which God gives us some kind of revelation, opens our eyes to a reality that we were not able to see, or nudges us to expand our vision of what is possible.
Jacob’s wonderful dream is the centerpiece of the reading from Genesis—a vision of the sacred energy that flows from God to us and us to God, the holy movement and passage between heaven and earth. Then God makes this magnificent promise that Jacob’s offspring will spread from east to west and north and south and that he and all his offspring will be a blessing for all the families of the earth. This is a glorious passage because it prompts us to imagine the possibilities that can emerge when we are open to and practice holy imagination and let God speak to us.
And what about the angels on your life journey? I’ll bet most of us have at one time or another run into one whether or not we have been aware of it or not. The late Alexander Schmemann, a distinguished Russian Orthodox priest and theologian, once told a group of students why he believed in the existence of angels.
When he was a young man studying in Paris, he was traveling on the metro one day with his fiancée. They were very much in love and bound up in each other. The train stopped and an elderly, unattractive woman got on. She was dressed in the uniform of the Salvation Army and she sat near them. The two began to whisper to each other in Russian about the grossness and ugliness of the woman.
The train came to a stop. Remember, they are riding on the metro in Paris. The old woman got up and, as she passed the two young people, she said to them in perfect Russian, “I wasn’t always ugly.” That, insisted Father Schmemann, was an angel who taught him that this human being was much, much more than an ugly old woman. She was a beloved child of God. For him, she was an angel of revelation.
So, be on the lookout for one. From time to time when we need one, God does send us an angel as evidence that God is taking notice of us. Just imagine that!