In the name of Adonai
The God of Israel:
May the angel Michael be at my right,
And the angel Gabriel be at my left;
And in front of me the angel Uriel,
And behind me the angel Raphael…
And above my head the presence of God.
-A Jewish Prayer for Protection at Night
My mom is a deeply spiritual person. She raised us in the Episcopal Church, but her relationship with the institution of the church was casual. By the time I dropped out of confirmation class at 12, we’d become a Palm Sunday and Easter kind of family. We very much understood; the church of my childhood was beautiful but cold and had failed to support her in a time of true need.
But Mom carefully and emphatically taught us to always listen to our angels.
The Greek word “angelos” translates to messenger. Angels are messengers of God, sent to help us when we’re not hearing the still small voice. The four angels in the prayer above are the only angels named in the bible. The Archangel Michael, known as our protector, is celebrated on Michaelmas, September 29. In 1970, the Gabriel and Raphael were added to this Feast day, marking it “Saint Michael and All Angels.”
For the children in our parish, it is the Angel Gabriel who tends to stand out and be remembered. After all, they have the chance to interact with or even ‘be’ Gabriel every year in the Christmas pageant. It’s one of our most coveted roles and costumes. And children who don’t want speaking parts are thrilled to don the white albs and the ‘halo hats’ to be Gabriel’s chorus, the Heavenly Host.
There is something deeply compelling about claiming our role as messengers of God, and particularly in bringing the message to Mary of the honor God will bring her, in a birth that will change the world.
Mom’s belief is that it is our people – those who’ve gone before us – who become our angels. And she has strong reason to stay tuned in to them, as they’ve stepped right into her life more than once to protect her.
Once, on a Manhattan street corner, my beautiful young mother stepped out to cross Fifth Avenue. From nowhere, a strong hand reached out and pushed her back onto the curb. As she stood in shock, looking for where that hand had come from and where it had gone, a taxi rocketed through the red light at the intersection… right where Mom had been stepping only a moment ago.
Years later, a single parent of 2 teenagers, Mom drove the usual way home from work one late afternoon. As the light changed to green and she went to move her foot from brake to accelerator pedal, she felt the right side of her body freeze and spasm. She thought she was having a stroke. She had time to wonder if her kids were losing her that day, and to feel all the intense grief and panic and desperation of that thought. A truck barreled through the intersection; again a distracted or aggressive driver ignoring a red light. And mom’s body returned, completely, to normal. She was totally fine; able to move the foot that had been frozen in spasm, and slowly drove home to us.
“Always listen to your angels,” she told us.
I haven’t experienced such earth-shattering moments of revelation, but I have definitely learned to listen to the still, small voices that frequently inform my actions. Last winter my young son and I planned a ski day during Spring Break. We would drive up for the day, ski (me) and snowboard (him) in the fresh powder, eat juicy hamburgers and fries at the top of the mountain for lunch.
Both of us were filled with excitement as we went to bed the night before. Waking up, my excitement had been replaced with dread. Not at the skiing, but at the drive. I lay in the early gloom and tried to manage this feeling, tried to overrule it, determined to keep my promise to my son. Finally, I went downstairs, still torn over whether to disappoint him or fight through my uncharacteristic anxiety and go. I found him at the kitchen table, on his iPod, looking subdued.
His voice was tentative and filled with his own anxiety. I sat down with him.
“Would you be angry if I say I don’t want to go?”
I asked him why.
“I don’t know, I just woke up knowing that I really don’t want to go today.”
We stayed home that day. We baked and listened to music, and went on a little shopping spree and even out to lunch.
Because Mom taught us, always listen to your angels.
How do you understand angels?