These Still December Mornings

By the time the third week of Advent rolls around, we’ve marked hope and our lingering dissatisfaction with where the world is. We have longed for the Peace of Christ to come to our war-torn-and-too-violent world. Then in week 3, even though we know it’s coming, we are surprised by joy. 

Luci Shaw

‘Tis the season for angelic visitations, a perfect image for this happy surprise of Advent Joy. Luke tells of two such visitations. Both times the visitor brought good news: A Child will be born. God has remembered his people and is sending a redeemer!

The first  visit left  Zechariah dumbstruck (Luke 1:22). On the next visit, Mary was receptive and after seeing Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, pregnant in her old age, she burst with song (1:46-55). 

Of course “angelic visitation” may not  always mean an aura of light, a long flowing robe and feathered wings. In Luci Shaw’s Advent Visitation the visitor comes in with the  ‘satin wind’ to her cabin door. We don’t get a look at the visitor but we sense the joy that this visit brought her:

Even from the cabin window I sensed the wind’s
contagion begin to infect the rags of leaves.
Then the alders gilded to it, obeisant, the way

angels are said to bow, covering their faces with
their wings, not solemn, as we suppose, but
possessed of a sudden, surreptitious hilarity.

When the little satin wind arrived,
I felt it slide through the cracked-open door
(A wisp of prescience? A change in the weather?),

and after the small push of breath–You
entering with your air of radiant surprise,
I the astonished one.

These still December mornings
I fancy I live in a clear envelope of angels
like a cellophane womb.  Or a soap bubble,

the colors drifting, curling.  Outside
everything’s tinted rose, grape, turquoise,
silver–the stones by the path, the skin of sun

on the pond ice, at night the aureola of
a pregnant moon, like me, iridescent,
almost full-term with light.

Like Shaw on one of these still December mornings, Mary, Elizabeth (and Zechariah) were each surprised by joy! The things they each hoped for but feared would never come to pass were now happening! The gnawing loneliness and ache of absence were being swallowed up. A people’s long exile was coming to an end. There was joy in the visiting and joy for what was yet to come. 

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 3He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 3and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Mary floated like she was in a clear envelope of angels like a cellophane womb. Or a soap bubble. Everything outside was tinted rose, grape, turquoise and silver. Joy! The reflection of the moonlight on the frozen pond, an areola of the pregnant moon—almost full-term with light! Anticipation and excitement reach a fever pitch. Jesus is coming, God is here!

Have you had an angelic visitation yet? God is near. 

God’s Supernatural Agents: a book review

I was interested in Angels: God’s Supernatural Agents for two reasons. First I do not have enough authors on my reading list, or enough Christian authors from the charismatic/pentecostal stream. With this book,  I got both. Ed Rocha hails from Brazil and is immersed in the Charismatic movement (á la Randy Clark, and Bill Johnson).  Rocha has a degree from International Bible Institute, London, is the founder of Pier49 and a speaker for Global Awakening Ministries and is planting a church with the Global Awakening Network. In this book Rocha describes angels as ‘ministering agents sent to serve those who inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). He aims to demonstrate the ways angels protect us, come to lead us into worship, or in answer to prayer, and the gifts they have to offer us.

ANgelsThe scholarship in this is really thin. The foot notes mostly point to the Strong’s Bible lexicon (accessed via Blue-Letter Bible). Rocha does point to scriptures about Angels and discusses angels in the Bible, but for the most part account of angels is colored by his experience of signs and wonders (i.e. where he or others have witnessed ministering angels). He tells stories of angelic visitations and times when angels helped him through difficult circumstances (like getting him through customs).

I like hearing angel stories, and I am interested in seeing how a supernatural God may use such beings to intervene in people’s life. I felt challenged by Rocha to be open to the way God uses angels in our lives. Unfortunately this book strained credulity. In chapter twelve Rocha describes unusual signs which sometimes accompany angelic visitations, such as gold dust, golden teeth or hair, and gems from heaven. Golden teeth and gems sounds more pirate-like than angelic. He also describes a picture of an angel he has on his iphone. I am all for recapturing the supernatural nature of the Christian faith but this all seemed like it fell into ‘experience hunting’ rather than abundant life in Christ.

I give this book two stars (because I enjoyed some of the stories) but I can’t recommend this.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Angels from the Realm of Glory: a book review

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-gods-angelsAll 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.



Angels for Kids: a kid’s book review

One of my earliest memories is of bedtime-prayers. My parents would tuck me in each night and pray that God would’ send his angels to look after me.’ Now I am a father with little ones of my own. I often pray these same words decades ago. As a parent invested in teaching my children Christian truth, I am always on the look out for resources forhanding down the faith.  This is what Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle does for the topic of angels. Angels for Kids is a short, easy read which explains the world of angels at a level that children could grasp (I would say ages seven to nine). O’Boyle draws on the wisdom of the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the writings of pope John Paul II and  other writers on Christian spirituality, ancient and modern.

O’Boyle covers a number of questions that kids would have about angels.  She talks about the different kinds of angels in the ‘angelic hierarchy,’ angel stories from the Old and New Testament. what angels look like, fallen angels, the archangels, the work angels do and their friendship with us. She also shares prayers for angelic protection or prayers directed to angels.

I am an Evangelical protestant who reads widely across the spectrum of Christian traditions. Probably the point where I am most at theological loggerheads with the Catholic tradition, is in the area of ‘prayers offered to saints and angels.’  However when Catholics offer prayers to Mary, the Archangels or various saints, they are not worshiping them; they are asking for their intercession before the Father. You might say that rather than praying ‘to’ angels, the Catholics (and Orthodox Christians), pray ‘through’ them. I still find myself at odds with the practice (Christ is our intercessor).

So as a Protestant, I probably wouldn’t use every aspect of this book in talking to my own children about angels but I think it does a great job of summarizing Catholic angelology in an age-appropriate way.  O’Boyle also shares what the Bible says about angels (in both Testaments) and some of the prayers shared are amenable to protestants, including this prayer of the Angel of Fátima (1916):

My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You.I ask pardon for those that do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love you. (61)

Angels are messengers  of God. They signal to us that the world is more complicated and wonderful than our material senses allow. Introducing children to what angels are and what they do is worthwhile. I recommend Angels For Kids to Christian parents (especially Catholics) who want their kids to enlarge their vision of the supernatural world.  Protestants like me, will also find words to talk to their own children about angels. Angels aren’t fairies. They are real and the God they serve is real.  I give this book four stars.

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Help! Angels Keep Touching Me!: a book review

Lifted By Angels: The Presence And Power of Our Heavenly Guides by Joel J. Miller.

My view of angels is complicated. I was raised in an evangelical home and have always believed in angels and the part they played in the biblical story; however I was taught to be suspicious of tales of modern day angelic visitations, and to doubt the lore which was built around angels, because so much of it was New Age, Mormons, or Muslim. As a child I was tucked in with a prayer that asked God to send his angels to look after me, but if anybody started talking about experiencing angels, that was a good indication that they were a heretic or they needed to up their medication.

When I was in college, I attended a charismatic church which affirmed the experiential reality of a super natural God–everything God did in scripture was for today and that included angels and angelic visitations. I remember one guest speaker at our church explaining that he felt the presence of ‘angels in the room’ by a sensation he had in his sinus cavity(yep, I kid you not). Others saw angels, or ‘felt them.’ I did feel the reality of God’s presence at that church but the lack of critical thinking about spiritual experiences was disturbing.

Joel Miller has written a book on angels which deftly guides readers past the extremes of supernatural suspicion and belief in anything and everything ‘angelic.’ Drawing generously on Biblical and patristic sources (early church theologians), he gives an account of how the early church thought and taught about angels. He asserts that ‘the image that forms from these sources is, I think, more exciting, more frightening, more humbling, more inspiring, and ultimately more real than our popular conceptions.(2)’ Miller discusses the early church’s reflections on the nature and origin of angels, their fall from grace (in the case of Satan and his demons), the ways God used angels to nurture and protect Israel, Christs victory over the demonic, the role of guardian angels in nurturing and protecting us, our participation with the angels in the worship of God, the role of angels in the eschaton.

This is a lot of ground to cover for a short book (the main text of the book is 152 pages excluding footnotes and bibliography); nevertheless Miller succeeds admirably well in delineating the understanding of angels bequeathed us from the early church, even demonstrating the way our understanding of angels has developed over time. Certainly there are some aspects of early church angel-ology where I disagree or would want to parse biblical texts which deal with angels differently. But there is no denying, the tradition has a lot to teach us.  I would recommend this book for those who have an interest in angels (whether that manifests itself as an unhealthy fascination or dismissive suspicion).  Part of navigating how we are to understand something so mysterious and etheral as angels is by submitting ourselves to a biblical understanding of angels and drawing on the rich resources of theology.  Miller does both.

The question that the discerning reader may have is, “how does ancient exegesis shape our understanding of angels?” Just because ancient Christians thought and taught something, does not necessarily make it right. This is a popular level study and does little in way of evaluating its sources. Miller simply sites church fathers he is sympathetic to(while noting theological diversity and doctrinal development).  The belief in the fall of Lucifer is found in the ancient church, but when you read Isaiah in its historic, literary context, the Biblical data doesn’t seem conclusive. There seems to be mysteries here that even the ancient church does not fully untangle for us, but I am grateful for the ways in which they affirm the angels and delineate a proper understanding of them.

Practically speaking, the presence of angels reminds us of the world beyond that which we apprehend with our senses. I think this a great book for sorting out what place angels should have in our theology.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me a copy of this book (via Book sneeze) in exchange for this review.