I had never particularly warmed to angels. As fluffy cherubs they seemed bordering on the sickly and theologically, they made no sense to me. As good Unitarians, who needs intermediaries between the human soul and the divine spirit?
Despite the vigilance of a rational mind, the dark wings of angels could sometimes be heard but these wings were not the wings of Renaissance cupids. The healing in these wings brought the wind of other, older places.
Jacob’s angel, for example, the one he meets in a dream and wrestles with all night long, not knowing the identity of the mysterious stranger. At dawn the stranger must leave but Jacob will not release him until he receives his blessing. And limps for the rest of his life, from the injury done to his hip by the angel. But as he declares, “I have gazed upon the face of God and lived.”
Archangel Raphael, who accompanies Tobit through his long pilgrimage to his father’s country in search of the bride who has been chosen for him from the beginning of eternity. Who, rather vexingly, has to be exorcised of demons before they can consummate their wedding night.
The stern guardians of Zoraster who can be seen watching over the remnants of their Assyrian civilisation in the British Museum. These “Bounteous Immortals”, the ancestors of the archangels brought back with the Jews from Babylon, who appear at odd times to help human beings in their struggle against destruction and evil and towards health, happiness and right conduct.
The sub-atomic angels of the medieval Scholastics, dancing the chaotic energy of creation and destruction, all together upon the head of a pin.
The presence of angels in this world has surely always spoken of the mysterious relationship in our universe between spirit and matter. What animates? We can continue to break matter down into ever tinier particles but we are none the wiser about the mysterious principle called life.
Like Garcia Marquez’ “Old Man with Enormous Wings,” the secret of the universe may fall into our backyard one day in a rather dishevelled state, stay a while, rest up, get shown around the village like a circus animal and then one day fly away again, never having uttered a word, leaving us all bewildered but somehow more awake.
But heed the words from scripture, for a moral can always be found, should the need arise:
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews, 13.2).
For those who haven’t grown out of story, try “Miss Garnet’s Angel” by Salley Vickers and “The Wave Theory of Angels” by Alison MacLeod.
The short story mentioned here by Gabriel Garcia Marquez can be found in his collection entitled “Leaf Storm.”