I'm reading Rowan Williams' book Tokens of Trust. Given my skeptical stance toward metaphysics I've tended to ignore the biblical accounts of angels, but this passage by Williams in Tokens gave me much to think about:
God has made what we can see and manage and what we can't see and can never manage, a universe some of which we can get a grasp of and some of which we can't. This isn't a recommendation not to try to understand, but simply a reminder that not everything is going to be made sense of from our point of view. We don't get to the end of being baffled and amazed. I sometimes think that this is the importance of talking about angels in Christian teaching. Odd as it may sound, thinking about these mysterious agents of God's purpose, who belong to a different order of being, can be a least a powerful symbol for all those dimensions of the universe about which we have no real idea. Round the corner of our vision things are going on in the universe, glorious and wonderful things, of which we know nothing. We're so used to sentimentalizing and trivializing angels--they are often reduced to Christian decorations, fairy godmothers almost (as in most of the extraordinary flood of books about angels in recent years). But in the Bible angels are often rather terrifying beings occasionally sweeping across the field of our vision; they do God strange services that we don't fully see; they provide a steady backdrop in the universe of praise and worship. They are great 'beasts,' 'living creatures,' flying serpents burning with flames, carrying the chariot of God, filling the Temple in Jerusalem with bellows of adoration, echoing to one another like whales in the ocean. Those are the angels of Isaiah and Ezekiel--anything but Christmas card material. And sometimes a human form appears to give a message from God and something in the event tells the people involved that this is a moment of terror and truth, and they recognize that they have met an angel in disguise."Round the corner of our vision things are going on in the universe, glorious and wonderful things..."
Now whether or not you feel inclined to believe literally in angels--and a lot of modern Christians have a few problems with them--it's worth thinking of them as at the very least a sort of shorthand description of everything that's 'round the corner' of our perception and understanding in the universe--including the universal song of praise that surrounds us always. If we try and rationalize all this away, we miss out on something vital to do with the exuberance and extravagance of the work of God, who has made this universe not just as a theatre for you and me to develop our agenda, but as an overwhelming abundance of variety and strangeness.
"...the universal song of praise that surrounds us always."
"...this universe...as an overwhelming abundance of variety and strangeness."
More and more, it seems, I'm being drawn into the language of the angelic and the demonic for the reasons Williams describes. These words, for me at least, are helping me pick out aspects of my life with great precision and clarity. They seem to name something for me that had no name before.
For example, in teaching my bible class on Sunday I compared a worship service to an exorcism. I said, basically, that for a moment in that service it seemed like the demonic forces of dehumanization so in control of our world--social, political, and economic forces--suddenly seemed to evaporate; that it was like an exorcism had taken place and with the retreat of the demonic there was a glimpse of the Kingdom Coming, that heaven came close to earth and the sunlight of God's grace broke through the clouds. God's will in heaven was being done on earth.
To be honest, I really don't know what is happening to me. I've never talked like this. But more and more I'm using this language to describe my life.