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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Lent / Tarot / Temperance: Angels

Lent / Tarot / Angels: Temperance

The Temperance card uses an image of an angel to communicate its message of balance and moderation.

I don't know much about angels. I don't think about angels a lot. I tend to relegate angels to the fringes of belief.

In recent years, New Age has adopted angels as its own. New Age authors and believers attribute all kinds of supernatural power to angels. On the one hand New Age tries to reject, overturn, and slander the Judeo-Christian tradition. On the other hand, New Age wants to pillage the Judeo-Christian tradition. You go into any New Age shop and you can find, along with the crystals and wind chimes, a wide variety of angel products: angel statuettes, angel pictures, even a field guide to angels.

The Judeo-Christian concept of God is overwhelming. The idea that an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God allows suffering and injustice to happen takes a toll. I think sometimes people use belief in angels as a way around the harder parts of belief in God. God may be seen as remote and uncaring, but angels are beautiful, nearby, and comforting. That's certainly how Wim Wenders depicted angels in his 1987 film Wings of Desire. In one achingly poignant scene, an angel, Cassiel, sits with a suicidal mortal, trying to prevent him from killing himself.

Cassiel is unsuccessful. The man, who appears to be mentally disturbed, does kill himself. Cassiel is distraught. We can imagine an angel becoming distraught over one human's fate. It's hard to imagine God being distraught.

The Catholic Encyclopedia has an excellent and exhaustive page on angels. It's here.

The Vatican offers a summary of the angel resume:

"Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, announcing this salvation from afar or near and serving the accomplishment of the divine plan: they closed the earthly paradise; protected Lot; saved Hagar and her child; stayed Abraham's hand; communicated the law by their ministry; led the People of God; announced births and callings; and assisted the prophets, just to cite a few examples. Finally, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Precursor and that of Jesus himself."

A Biblical Concordance reveals that some books mention angels more than others. This concordance records no mentions of angels in Mark, but there are multiple angel mentions in Luke. Revelation appears to be the book with the highest percent occurrence of angel references.

Years ago, I had an experience that … well … I've told this story before. I'll just tell it again.

The events I will describe, below, happened one summer. A hot summer. A really hot summer. This is the Midwest. A skillet baking under the sun, a dry poplar leaf trembling in wait for the next tornado. The only cool it will give you till autumn are the thunderstorm hailstones that pelt down on your shoulders, making you wonder when the frogs, locusts, and rivers of blood show up. The Midwest knows how to do summers that make you beg for mercy.

This summer was a particularly dark chapter. Several loved ones died within months of each other: my mother, whom I held in my arms as she died, my best friend in Bloomington, David, my oldest living relative, my best online friend, and a friend I had left behind in another state.

During this difficult summer … Strangers smiled and waved.

Yeah, that's it. Strangers smiled and waved.

No, no, not that kind of smile. Not that kind of wave.

People I'd never seen before, and would never see again, went out of their way to make contact with me, to meet my eyes, and to smile at me in a way that said, "I KNOW you. I APPRECIATE you. I know what you are facing. I know it's a drag. And I know – and I know in your heart and soul that you know this, too – we know that it is going to be okay. No matter how bleak it looks now, it is going to be okay."

These weren't the smiles that strangers smile at each other. These were the smiles that confederates, compadres, co-conspirators for the good, smile at each other, when they are downed behind enemy lines, and they run across a comrade, and they want to convey warmth, encouragement, and connection, without breaking cover.

I remember two of these smiles. Once, I was in line at the Bloomington Bagel Company, where I used to go for lunch. The man in front of me, looking very much like any given man in the Midwest – white, conservatively dressed, about my age, reasonably attractive but not movie star handsome, suddenly turned around, and, without his eyes wandering around the room for even the briefest second, he targeted my eyes, made eye contact with me, and smiled. Enthusiastically. Beautifully. Beneficently.

I said nothing, and neither did he. After we shared this smile, he turned back around, and we made no further contact.


Another event:

It was high summer. IUB's campus was deserted. It just lay there motionless, baking under the sun. I was walking from my job, across campus, to the main drag in town.

Up in the distance, a bit ahead of me, was a beautiful, young, blonde woman in what looked to me like a red, designer dress. Not a ball gown, but, rather, a chic little-black-dress type dress, except it was red.

What the hell was she doing on campus? No one else was around. No classes, no conferences, no games.

There was no way she could have heard or seen me. We were separated by the length of oh, say, two large suburban homes with lawns.

And then, as if she were quite conscious of what she was doing, she stopped, turned around, immediately made eye contact with me across the distance between us, and smiled, and waved.

What the … ???

I was really confused. I had no idea what to make of this. I walked on and so did she. Campus buildings intervened. I was approaching the student center, a large, rambling building surrounded by lawn.

Heck, there she was again. Again, up ahead of me, again, that distance between us. And she did it again. Moved as if planned, as if quite conscious, turned, made eye contact with me, smiled, enthusiastically, warmly, smiled, and waved. In an equally casual and unhurried manner, she stopped, turned back around, and went on her way.

Yes, I did think she was probably an angel.

Or, I thought, maybe these smilers and wavers are all just Hoosiers, just humans, but some angel whispered in their ear, in a frequency they could subconsciously understand, "See that human over there? Your fellow human? Having a tough time. Give her a smile. Give her a wave. That's right; that's the spirit. Thanks."

Because it wasn't just the oddness of it all. It wasn't just the smile, the wave.

It was how sweet and good I felt after each one of these stranger-smile-waves. I felt as if my finger had been dipped in the celestial honeypot. I felt as if my quiver's stock of arrows had been renewed, and I could get it together, slay the final dragons, and get the heck out of Bloomington, which I did shortly do.

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