Sunday, 4 December 2011

Do you believe in angels? Do you believe there is something good in everything you see?

There are messengers of love and hope all around us. The real problem is that we just don't see it and just don't believe it...Do I believe in angels? I see them everywhere...Do I believe that there is something good in everything? I cannot fail to see it, If I would but open my eyes.

I love the following story it says so much about how even people of great faith can fail to see the blessings right in front of their eyes...I see angels everywhere...

A terrible storm came into a town and local officials sent out an emergency warning that the riverbanks would soon overflow and flood the nearby homes. They ordered everyone in the town to evacuate immediately.

A deeply faithful man heard the warning and decided to stay, saying to himself, “I will trust God and if I am in danger, then God will send a divine miracle to save me.”

The neighbours came by his house and said to him, “We’re leaving and there is room for you in our car, please come with us!” But the man declined. “I have faith that God will save me.”

As the man stood on his porch watching the water rise up the steps, a man in a canoe paddled by and called to him, “Hurry and come into my canoe, the waters are rising quickly!” But the man again said, “No thanks, God will save me.”

The floodwaters rose higher pouring water into his living room and the man had to retreat to the second floor. A police motorboat came by and saw him at the window. “We will come up and rescue you!” they shouted. But the man refused, waving them off saying, “Use your time to save someone else! I have faith that God will save me!”

The flood waters rose higher and higher and the man had to climb up to his rooftop.

A helicopter spotted him and dropped a rope ladder. A rescue officer came down the ladder and pleaded with the man, "Grab my hand and I will pull you up!" But the man STILL refused, folding his arms tightly to his body. “No thank you! God will save me!”
Shortly after, the house broke up and the flood waters swept the man away and he drowned.

When in Heaven, the man stood before God and asked, “I put all of my faith in You. Why didn’t You come and save me?”

And God said, “Son, I sent you a warning. I sent you a car. I sent you a canoe. I sent you a motorboat. I sent you a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”

There are angels all around us bearing gifts of love and compassion, they are truly heaven sent. The problem is we just do not see it or we cannot believe it.

Last week I attended an interfaith friendship circle at the home of Michael Jackson, no not the recently deceased prince of pop, but a local solicitor. Michael has been practising Buddhism since the early 1970’s, is married to a Jewish woman and also attends and leads a meditation class at the local Anglican Church. He is a great example of religious pluralism in action.

Michael led a conversation on Buddhism, his personal experiences with it and his understanding of the tradition. It was an enjoyable evening and we shared a lively discussion. I have been listening to a lot of different Buddhist recently and each time I seem to hear a different take on it. This happens in all walks of life and in all faith traditions I suspect, I know it is not unique to Buddhism.

During the conversation Michael talked about the Buddha finding enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and his experience of doubt and confusion as to what he ought to do about it. Michael described how a Brahmin Angel descended from the heavenly realm and spoke to the Buddha and told him that he must go and teach what he had learnt. For some reason it was this part of the discussion that made me sit up and really listen. Mohsin, a Muslim, also took particularly interest. I suspect that this is because Mohammad had experienced a similar encounter. He saw the arch angel Gabriel by the Lote – tree. I had never heard a Buddhist talk about angels before, nor have I heard a Brahmin Angel described before. The Brahmin is the Hindu word for the Divine. I was a little puzzled by all of this, it certainly got me thinking.

I have been thinking about angels ever since, both in the religious traditions and in ordinary everyday life. If angels are messengers from God, then surely we can all meet them in our everyday encounters. I have come to believe that the Divine speaks through everyday life. As one of my favourite hymns goes “God speaks to us in bird and song , in winds that move the clouds along , above the din of toil and wrong, a melody of love.” I think the problem is not so much whether angels exist or not, it’s that we are just not aware of them. We don’t see them and we don’t hear them because they are everywhere. We cannot see the wood for all of the trees.
Angels are of course central to the Christmas story. At this time of year we are surrounded by them. Just go to virtually any primary school up and down the land and you will see little boys and girls dressed as Angels, somewhere in the background. No they don’t get the central lead roles, but they are there quietly and serenely watching over the main players.

The Hebrew and Greek words for angel (malak and aggelos) simply means “messenger”. In the Christmas story it is the Arch Angel Gabriel who delivers the news that Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist and that Mary will soon be carrying Jesus. These are both described as miracles as Elizabeth cannot have children and Mary is a virgin. Gabriel appears again to the Shepherds and it is said during the Easter story too. Within the Judea-Christian tradition angels are seen as the deliverers of the “good news”. The Jewish scriptures are littered with individuals encountering angels. In some of these accounts it is suggested that not only are these angels delivering a message from the Divine but may well be God itself. They are sometimes referred to as “the angel of the Lord” and not just simply an angel (by the way another memeber of the Altrincham Interfaith Group is called Ann Angel and yes she is).

Angels are found in other traditions too. In Islam they are depicted as messengers of Allah. Belief in angels is one of the six articles of the Islamic faith. The Baha’i faith depicts angels as beings who have been released from the bondages of self and become endowed with the attributes of the spiritual and are therefore revealers of God’s Love and Grace. In Zoroastrianism angels are not messengers of the divine but are instead associated with different aspects of the divine creation, in this sense they are similar to the Hindu Deva’s. Zoroastrians also believe that each person has their own guardian angel.  Angels or their equivalent are found in many other traditions too, both ancient and modern.

It is untrue to see belief in angels as some relic from the past that has been dismissed in the modern age. I have met many people who talk of their belief in angels and who claim to have encountered them in their lives. When they do talk of angels I suspect that they are not talking about some winged genderless character such as is depicted in art of even in films like “Dogma”, although I know that some are.

In 2009 a survey by the economist revealed that 55% of Americans believed in angels. The same survey revealed that only 39% believed in evolution; 36% believed in anthropogenic global warming; 34% believed in ghosts; and 34% believed in UFO’s. A similar survey in Britain revealed that 34% of the population expressed a definite belief in angels, as messengers of God. Similar results can be found in surveys conducted around the world. Many people believe in angels. some people who do believe in angels express a disbelief in God. Many of those who say that they believe go further, claiming that they have actually encountered angels in their lives.

What can be made of all of this? Well I personally have too much respect for humanity to merely dismiss these claims. I hope I never mock people for what their honest reflection on their own life experiences have taught them. Personally I am not aware of encountering angels in the way that some people describe them, either today or in ancient times. Therefore I find it difficult to believe in angels in a literal sense. That said when they are described as a presence that either watches over us or as a messenger from God, then I can say that I am constantly experiencing them. I certainly hear messages of peace and goodwill increasingly in my life, even during the hardest of times. These guardians and or messengers do not have to have wings or halos. Nor do they have to live in some celestial realm. They are here amongst us, right here right now.

I have come to know the lure of Divine love, I have experience of the Divine constantly offering itself to me and believe this is happening to all life. I believe that God or at least God’s love is constantly speaking in and through life waiting for a response. If I pay attention to what is around me, I know that I am surrounded by angels. I see them in ordinary everyday life; people carrying messages of love to one another, people who are sent to rescue one another. I have witnessed it in the world I inhabit and I see it in my daily interactions. That said I also see darkness too. I see people turning away from love and hurting one another. Maybe we do this because we cannot or will not listen to the messages of love trying to burst into our lives.

I have also heard about these angels in the conversations I have with ordinary everyday people. I am not just talking about acts of kindness here, but also moments when something has spoken directly to people and they felt guided and led at important moments in their lives and as a result have responded appropriately. I offer a prayer of thanks for every single one of those messages of love that people have shared with me. Thank you.

I believe that there is that of God in each and every one of us, we are all made from the same stuff and we all return to it in the end. God to me speaks through life. Therefore all of life is potentially a messenger of the Divine. We just need to be open to the love within life and respond to it in order to experience and express it and pass it on to others. We certainly need it.

We encounter angels in our lives each and every day. They are here among us; they are in our homes and in our communities.

We are all sent by God. We are all God sent. We are all messengers of that Divine love.

The language of the heart is universal. It can break through any barrier. The key is to listen for it and learn to express it and to let love have its way.

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