Friday, November 9, 2007

The Angel in my Backyard

In early grade school one day, I sat with my classmates in the church – although not at Mass – listening to a Franciscan brother talk about angels. He began his talk by asking us, “Who in here has seen an angel?” I raised my hand earnestly (while I assumed seeing angels was only natural, I still considered it an honor). To my surprise, this was not what the Franciscan wanted to see. He wanted to talk about believing what could not be seen. And I was ruining his speech. As I looked around, I noticed there were no other hands up. The good brother then explained that he had not meant a picture of an angel, and my classmates laughed. I then said, “No, a real angel. I’ve seen an angel.” There was more laughter. After an awkward moment and a quizzical look, the brother simply continued with his prepared speech saying, “No one has ever seen an angel….” This was the day I learned that people don’t see angels.

For years I have doubted both my memory and my senses. But I always clung to some hope that I really did see an angel.

I’ve told the story so many times that I remember it in the telling more than I remember the actual event. This has been a source of much doubt. Of course, many doubt things they only know stories about. Jesus said, “Blessed are they who believe, but have not seen.” Sometimes, we can and do doubt even what we have seen.

I was standing on something next to my sister Jessica. We were looking out into the backyard through the downstairs bathroom window of our old house. We saw a glowing white figure in long, glowing white robes carrying a staff and walking behind our house. It was after dusk. The figure was like a silhouette of light against the darkness, so brilliant that his features were indistinguishable. I ran through the mudroom to the kitchen where my mother was washing dishes at the sink. I tugged on her pant leg and asked, “Mom, can people see angels?” She said, “I suppose, if God wants them to.” I believe I then asked her if angels have wings and she said, “not necessarily.” I went back to the bathroom and told Jessica it was an angel. We continued watching him walk through the yard.

“At the highest extremity of the visible world are the blessed band of angels,” says St. Clement of Alexandria. Interesting, I think, that he considers the angels a part of the visible world. Sometimes people see angels. Abraham did. Lot did. Jacob did. Joseph did. Sacred Scripture is filled with folks encountering angels – always with some great purpose, it seems. Even in modern angel tales, the angel shows up to save someone’s life in a car wreck or perform a much-prayed-for task. Clarence had great purpose in appearing to George Bailey.

Seldom do we hear of an angel walking through the yard on a casual stroll.

Why would an angel appear to a small boy and his sister one evening with no apparent task? The question has occurred to me. I am not certain of any answer.

But, I will say, angels exist at all times, not only when they are performing tasks of biblical significance. “Angel” means “messenger,” but, as Augustine points out, this is their office, not their nature. Their nature is spirit. Sometimes they just be. Maybe the angel just wanted me to know he was there.

Actually, I sometimes wonder if this doesn’t happen all the time. How many experiences we dismiss as fatigue, faulty memory, or hallucination are actually experiences of the spiritual world? I suspect more than a few.


Kyle R. Cupp said...

The Blessed Mother also saw an angel, spoke with it, and from her encounter with it helped usher in the renewal of all creation.

With God all things are possible, the sight of angels included.

On the flip side, saints have had to deal with encounters with the demonic, a reality we want to ignore outside the confines of entertaining horror films.

Dusty M Brahlek said...

I wonder why the brother would want to say that no one has seen an angel? That seems VERY odd to me. Not only seeing them, but touching, and interacting with them.

I think you saw the angel to touch some place in your soul. God gives us the ability to see things to help us, if not now then later...

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