Updated: Mar 10, 2021
I’ve always liked angels. I’ve liked them in the same way I like a roaring fire and hot buttered toast. They promise comfort. They are full of light. They don’t skulk in corners trying to catch the unwary off guard. They are right in your face, upfront, being angelic which is what they do best.
We say a prayer in the Third Order every day which I can recite now by heart and often do on my daily walk. It asks various saints to pray for us (something of a quantum leap from where I began) and ends with the words, ‘May all the angels watch over us and befriend us.'.
And something inside me cheers.
Growing up in my fundamentalist church, angels were surprisingly accepted. This was because they were in the Bible and anything mentioned in the Bible for all to see was true. And no-one could dispute the place of the angels there. They weren’t just a fancy of the verboten Catholics or the higher echelons of Anglicanism where everyone pranced around in nighties. They were certainly not of this world but okay in ours.
Now I don’t have the time or space to mention all these heavenly beings of the Bible but I’ll introduce you to a few.
There is Gabriel. Gabriel who came to Mary and told her she was going to have a baby. I thought innocently for years that was how people found out, but there you go. Then Michael, who is an Archangel and of a higher rank than the others. (Some say Gabriel is an Archangel, but like most things in the Church, people fall out about that). There were guardian angels as well, who went to school with you and stopped you running out in front of a car. They must have been on their lunch break though when the school bully stuffed your hat behind the hot water pipes so you got into trouble with the Headmistress for not wearing it in the street.
Guardian angels were a bit unreliable in my experience.
Then of course there is the really bad guy - Lucifer – the one brightest angel in heaven who rebelled against God and was banished for eternity and now works in havoc in the world personifying all that is evil. Or spreading fake news. He was the face of the bad man who tried you lure you away with sweets, or was in the mouth of your best friend who made you say a very naughty word, promising not to tell and then did. Lucifer was an ever-present reminder of what happened if you wandered off the path.
These were the angels I met as a child.
But I wasn’t afraid of angels. I quite liked the idea of them. I liked the idea of their huge wings, their faces lit up like the sun, their kindly natures. I envied their ability to fly and go just where they wanted.
I wanted to be able to fly that close to God.
And angels had a lovely existence. They were higher in the pecking order than us mere mortals. They never died. They were intelligent and wise. And they lived in heaven, but could occasionally come down to earth and do a shift or two here. They were musical, often playing a trumpet or a harp or singing together in a heavenly choir. They even had Handel write a piece especially for them in his ‘Messiah’.
So angels have always been welcoming.
I am five, and my class at infant school is told that we are going to produce a nativity play. I am somewhat confused by this – I’ve never heard of a nativity play and am not sure what I am dealing with. I therefore follow proceedings from my classroom desk (this is the Sixties remember, when we sit in serried ranks and chant times tables), with some considerable interest.
All parts chosen, the rest of us settle down to learn ‘Away in a Manger’ to lisp from the wings and be grateful for this measure of inclusion. This was in the days when it is okay to leave kids out and have them make do with three verses of a carol.
Somehow my teacher trips up with her casting – I don’t know how or why – I am now bored by the whole thing at this stage as I know all the words to ‘Away in a Manger’ and don’t have a lot left to do. I am just aware that she is saying she is an angel short and could she have some volunteers? My heart bursts with anticipation, with desperation, with a passion I’ve not felt before - to be that Chosen One. I lean my left arm on the grainy wooden desk, my right raised as high as it can go, straight as an arrow to the sky, signalling my need. I sit bolt upright, mutely willing and willing the teacher to choose me. She looks around at the sea of waving hands in front of her, glances at me, looks away again and after what seems like a lifetime (easy when you are five), points at me.
Not even Mary in her dealings with God’s messengers could have felt more joyous at that moment.
I vaguely remember practices which involved sitting behind a screen with my two co-angels, hearing random knocks on the inn door and stilted conversations from the other side. Never emerging from our heavenly home till the cue was given meant that I still didn’t know what a nativity play looked like, but all my sterling attendances at Sunday School ensured I was well versed in the story. Then– oh the glory! being decked out in a white sheet and given – oh rapture! – wings to wear for the actual appearance. I remember that I was (shamefully) late to school on that day and all the rest of the class greeted me with hushed whispers of admonition as I was bundled into my heavenly host outfit and parked unceremoniously behind the angelic screen.
But the moment arrived and I waited an everlasting, fidgety age for the adult in the wings to give us the signal to pronounce our good news. I popped up from behind the screen and piped, ‘For behold! I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people...’
Now I know I don’t know much at all about angels. You can study them, it’s called ‘angelology’ if you are really interested and want to look it up. I only know what I know from where I’ve been, and I’m still on the journey and haven’t gone very far yet.
But I like the idea that angels are on my side. I like the idea that they may be all around, supporting, helping and all the time singing. I like to say my prayer asking the angels to befriend me each day, sitting with me at my desk while I write, slipping into the passenger seat of my car and settling down on the sofa at night to watch ‘Line of Duty’.
And sitting by the fire with me eating hot buttered toast.
As all best friends do.