Two years ago this month a package from Canada arrived in the mail from my longtime cgs catechist sister, Mariann Dunsmore. Mariann had been diagnosed with cancer a year earlier and she knew that her time here on earth was coming toward an end. As an amazing artist and icon writer, she had many, many projects started that she knew would be left undone unless she recruited a gaggle of us to finish them. Mariann specifically entrusted me with a four foot long woven canvas with an angel drawn on it… and not a lot of instructions. As someone who has never embroidered in my life, I was not sure why she thought I’d be a good person to work on this project. My mother had taught me to thread a needle, but that was a long time ago.
Still it must be done! I got an embroidery kit and began to work on it during long Zoom meetings and while watching tv. As I got further into the project, I became bold enough to bring it to long live meetings as well and family gatherings. Soon, I was working on it all of the time, adding all sorts of new flourishes beyond Mariann’s original lines. And then one day it said, “I’m finished… for now.” My husband who ordinarily isn’t all that keen on my craft projects being publicly displayed in our home agreed to this one because I told him that it was St. Michael (his patron saint, Feast Day September 29) and he supposed that if it was St. Michael then it would be okay. I haven’t told him that in my mind it is not actually St. Michael. I’m picking up more Raphael vibes. (I suppose we are about to find out if he really reads my newsletter or not.)
Anyway, Mariann is the way that angels came back into my consciousness as an adult.
In my childhood angels were omnipresent, in good part because I attended Catholic school and had a very faith-filled home and we prayed the prayer to our Guardian Angels on a regular basis. Getting ready to preach for October 2 (The Memorial of Guardian Angels) brought back many early angel memories and required me to do a lot of reflecting: Where does the whole guardian angel notion come from? What truth is it trying to communicate? If you’d like to hear where that exercise took me, you can listen to my preaching titled "Light, Guard, Rule, Guide" here.
In my adulthood angels have been less present, or at least I have been less aware of their presence, but they have never really been gone from my life. If I think of angels in the more general sense of being God’s messengers (the original Hebrew meaning of the term), then I am certainly aware that I’ve encountered many in human form. That has been at no time more true than in the last couple weeks when I have received so many kind and supportive messages from many of you following the unexpected passing of my father. I have very much felt your prayers and am feeling well watched out for. Thank you for that. Truly.
I have also never the lost the sense of internally having a “better angel” (and a “worse angel”). I talk about this a little bit in my preaching for October 2nd. The concept has very deep roots that go back to at least the third century, but the phrase itself seems to have perhaps emerged with Shakespeare and then became famous in American history through Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address on the eve of the Civil War when he was pleading with the country to return to its senses. “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory…will yet swell the chorus…when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
I know for myself there are times when my nature can be magnanimous and open-minded and listening and seeking common ground. And then there are times when I am at the end of my rope and I’m just done. Done. I’ve been thinking about that a lot the last couple weeks also since I got back from St. Louis. I’ve been working on a discussion guide on healing polarization in our church and country (RENEW International, 2024). But I’ve also been watching the national news and about to blow a gasket. I think, “I am not sure that I am the right person for this project.” Still it must be done! (I can almost feel Mariann’s continued nudge.) So….then how to keep leaning in the direction of my own better angel?
I’ve found great encouragement in reading The Church’s Mission in a Polarized World by Aaron Wessman (New City Press, 2023) and in particular by learning more about the work of Braver Angels—one of the many groups that he profiles in his work. I’d highly recommend checking out both if you are also trying to find your better angel and need a jolt of hope.
In this week swirling with archangels and guardian angels, getting in contact with our better angels might be the most impactful way we can carry God’s message to the world.