Saturday, 13 December 2014

Encountering Angels

Please watch this video clip before reading the rest of the's a re-enactment of an encounter Kent Nerburn had when he was a taxi driver. He wrote about it in his wonderful book  “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace: Living in the Spirit of the Prayer of St. Francis"

As each year passes I seem to believe in Christmas more and more. Far more than I ever did as a child. I rejected it all at a pretty young age and became the cynical sniper dissecting it all and saying it’s all humbug…Bah Humbug, Bah Humbug, Bah Humbug…

I believe in Christmas, the soul of Christmas, the spirit of Christmas, the heart of Christmas the religion of Christmas more today than I ever did at any other moment in my life. Today I believe everything about Christmas and a whole lot more than everything that we think we know.

Now don’t get me wrong here I am not suggesting that I believe that everything that the Gospel accounts recounted actually happened. I really can’t answer that, I wasn’t there. Were any of us who argue about it actually there? No of course not. What I mean when I say I believe in Christmas more today than I have ever done before is that I believe in the universal mythos that lies in the soul of the story. I believe in the story and what it has to teach humanity regardless of time and or space.

Waldemar Argow put it near perfectly when he wrote

“Christmas is not a day, really. It is light, I think. It comes when days are shortest and darkest and hearts despair, and it reminds us that winter death is a temporary thing and that light and life are eternal.

And it is hope. For it demonstrates how kind and generous and self-forgetting human beings can be. And we know that what people can be sometimes, they can, if they will, be most times.”

“And assuredly, it is love. Its symbol is a newborn babe, warm and safe in his mother’s arms. To be sure, he was born a long, long time ago. Yet through the ages his influence as he became a man and the truths he taught and the love he incarnated have proved stronger and dearer in matters that matter most than all the kings and armies and governments of history. Oh, whatever else it may be, Christmas is indeed love.”

...this is what I mean when I say I believe in Christmas more today, than I ever did before...

Yes I believe in Christmas more today than I ever did before. I also believe we need Christmas more now today than at any other time before, for we mock the bells at Christmas time probably more today than we ever did before. The problem I suspect is that we do not hear the message at the heart of Christmas…Maybe we have forgotten how to listen or perhaps we have forgotten how to deliver the message…

And who are the messengers of Christmas? Well the angels of course. Now there are angels throughout the Christmas mythos as they are throughout the Bible. By the way they are not just in the Judeo Christian tradition, you will find them in others 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 therefore revealers of God’s Love and Grace. In Buddhism it was a Brahmin angel that instructed the Buddha that after receiving enlightenment he must go teach to others what he had learnt. In Zoroastrianism angels are not seen as 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 believe that each person has their own guardian angel.

Angels or their equivalent are found in many other traditions too, both ancient and modern. Belief in angels is not some relic from the past that has been dismissed in the modern age. I have met many people in my life who have said that they have had encounters with angels.

So who or what are angels? Well I believe that they are the messengers of that spirit that Waldemer Argo mentioned earlier. They carry the message that light can be found in the darkness, that hope can overcome any despair, that love can incarnate in all our hearts and that peace on earth and good will to all can once again come. Our task is to listen and to look for them, to ensure that “the ears of our ear are awake and they eyes of our eyes are open.”

A friend of mine said something rather lovely to me at 6.30am this Tuesday morning, just before we began our weekly meditation. He said “You know the birds sing much more joyfully and loudly round here.” They do you know and as I left our meditation time together, just after the sun had once again risen I noticed those winter roses in the gardens of the chapel…Messengers of love and hope if there are any.

I went to a coffee shop in town after the meditation as as we talked about all manner of things, some spiritual and some definitely not so I heard in the background one of my favourite Christmas Carols“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, by Edmund Hamilton Sears,

Edward Hamilton Sears was an American Unitarian minister from the mid-nineteenth century. He wrote "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" after meditating on the account of the Nativity in Luke’s Gospel and it would appear it was the angel's message to the shepherds that spoke to him.  He was touched deeply by the message of peace that the angels brought, as he opened himself up to “that glorious song of old”.For him it was a song as much for his time and not merely of the past; it was not just a song for the shepherds or Mary and her babe in arms. Instead he saw contained within it  a song that was a message to those of his time and place who were engaged in war. It was a message of peace and love for all humanity. It was a kind of lament about the lack of peace and goodwill on earth.

I would suggest that this song applies perhaps even more today than it did even then. There is very little sign of peace on earth and good will to all now than even in Sears time. If only we could hear the angels as they sing "O hush the noise, ye men of strife and hear the angels sing."

At the beginning of this blogspot is a re-enactment of an account from “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace: Living in the Spirit of the Prayer of St. Francis by Kent Nerburn. He recounts a  time when he was a taxi driver trying to scratch a living, of an encounter with a woman whose life was coming to an end and who he was taking on her final journey to a hospice. Nerburn says that he was deeply affected by this fare and described it as perhaps the most important encounter of his life.

Surely this was an encounter with an angel, although it is not exactly clear who was the giver and who was the receiver here. I suspect, like many such encounters it worked both ways. They were both givers and receivers of peace on earth and goodwill to all, both brought hope to the other and both were deliverers of love.

At the end of the short film Nerburn reflects that "Compassion is a learnt skill. Through empathy with another person's situation you can exercise compassion and you can give something too them. People feel they are are living in a mean world. We're selling self-reliance as a virtue and really what we are selling is a kind of selfishness. Giving is ultimately an act of creativity. It's the act of creating something new where there was nothing before. You're loving the world into existence when you give. And that to me is the artistry of ordinary living" Now surely this is the voice of an angel, surely here is being delivered a message of love and hope. Here is the message of Christmas that I believe in more and more each year, nay each day, nay each moment.

I believe that we can all become both the receiver and deliverer of the messengers of love, just as Kent Nerburn was.That said in order to do so we need to be open and alive and awake, to those angel voices however and wherever they speak. We need to prepare ourselves for them. We need to truly become channels of love and peace.

We may not be able to bring peace on all the earth but we can do something about our own little worlds. We can become angels to those we meet in our daily lives and we can hear the angels as they speak in our daily interactions. All we need to do is prepare ourselves.

And how can this be achieved? Well we do so by becoming both watches and waiters, like those shepherds in the ancient story “that glorious song of old”. We need to prepare ourselves both to hear those voices that carry that universal message of love and to also become those messengers in our daily interactions. We need to prepare ourselves each and every day and to be ready, because we never know the next encounter might be the one that changes our lives and or the person which we encounter, just like it did for Kent in that timeless and universal story we heard earlier.

We are here for a reason…each and every one of us…that reason I believe is to both givers and receivers, to become messengers of that universal song of love…We are here to bring hope to our world…so let us become the light of the world…Let us manifest hope in our hearts, minds and souls, let us become the hope of the world…

Let us hear the messengers of love and let us sing “that glorious song of old”

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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