We are currently midway through Advent—a season bookended by Annunciation and the angels singing, “Glory to God in the Highest and peace to people on earth.” The angels figure prominently in the stories we tell and the carols we sing, though we know (or suppose) angels aren’t just God’s seasonal hires. They are not simply holiday apparitions, angels are God’s servants. But what are they like? What do we know about them?
I grew up fascinated by angels. When I was young, my parents tucked me in each night with prayers that God would send His angels to look after me. A couple of perilous events caused my grandma to proclaim that my guardian angel was working overtime. I watched the angels on television imagining the halo hidden under Michael Landon’s coiffed hair and being moved by Della Reese’s maternal care. I heard popular treatment of angels which treat these divine messengers as our very special friends.
All God Angels: Loving & Learning from Angelic Messengers by Fr. Martin Shannon is a new devotional exploring the depiction of angels in the Bible. Shannon is an Episcopal priest and is a member of the ecumenical Community of Jesus in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Twenty-four entries examine the angelic realm through Scripture and sacred art. Shannon’s exploration begins with the Cherubim gatekeeper of Eden (Genesis 3:22-24) and ends with the revelator Angel of the Apocalypse (Revelation 1:1-3). Each entry is paired with a full-color depiction of the biblical scene described from artists range from Fra Angelico to Marc Chagall. There are also ancient icons, frescos and mosaics.
Shannon’s title is a slight misnomer. While he provides a broad overview of angelic visitations of the Bible, he doesn’t explore all God’s angels (just a multitude of heavenly hosts). The scary ones are under represented. We read of the angels at Abraham’s table in Genesis 18, but not how two of these angels would go on their way and destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19). There is no treatment of the angel of death killing the Egyptian-firstborn (Exodus 11-12), or the ambivalent captain of the Lord’s army which Joshua encounters (Josh. 5:13-15). The angels of Revelation are discussed, without a mention of them pouring out bowls of wrath against humanity. Shannon emphasizes, instead, their angelic commitment to God’s service.
There are other biblical angels which escape Shannon’s mention; yet despite their absence, he is great at exploring the angels’ role as messenger, minister and mediator of God’s presence. The angels described are used by God at significant turning points in the Biblical narrative (i.e. the Fall, the time of the Patriarchs, the Exodus, exile, Christ’s birth, the start of his ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension and at the end).
What I most appreciated about Shannon’s treatment is the way he captures what angels are all about. They aren’t simply our special friends but God’s servants. My fascination with angels transformed to wonder as I read; however I was nowhere tempted to see these angels as objects of worship. They are simply wholly committed to the God, enacting God’s will and bringing God’s presence to God’s people. This book may be nominally about the angels, Shannon focus (and the Angel’s) remains fastened on the God the angels serve.
I recommend this book to anyone fascinated by angels and would like a biblical, devotional treatment of the significant role they play, and what they have to teach us. I give it four stars.
Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.