Are they simply the Judeo-Christian equivalent, en masse, of the classical Mercury, messenger of the gods—a fleet of Mercuries delivering messages from Upstairs to us humans here below? Perhaps. In the Hebrew Scriptures they speak for God. But so do the Prophets. That’s what the word means in Greek, spokesperson. In fact, they sometimes talk as if they were God. An example is the angel in the Genesis story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22, 1-19)...
“He” (angelos is masculine in Greek) commands Abraham at the eleventh hour to withdraw his dagger-bearing hand and not harm the boy, Isaac, “for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (verse 12; emphasis added). And in another story about Abraham, we remember how he is visited by several strangers, both men, whom Abraham entertains as unexpected but honored guests. They reveal that Abraham and Sarah will miraculously become the parents of a male child in their old age, the very same Isaac who would be nearly sacrificed later on. The upshot is that sometimes we may be entertaining angels unawares. I’ve certainly felt that I have on occasion in my 84 years.
But when it comes to angels, my go-to place is the early-modern Austrian poet Reiner Maria Rilke (d. 1926). Here’s his poem “The Angels” in my translation:
They all have tired mouths
And bright souls without seams,
And a yearning, as for sinning,
Sometimes penetrates their dreams.
They almost look just the same;
In God’s gardens they keep still,
Like many, many intervals
In the mighty song of God’s Will.
It’s only when they spread their wings
That they awaken a heavenly wind.
As if God with His broad sculptor’s hands
Were turning the pages in the Great Book of Begins.
Or in his “First Duino Elegy” Rilke has these lines: “Angels, they say, often don’t know if they’re among the living or the dead./That’s how intently they’re listening to the Voice of God….” So, my prayer for today is, May each of us be constantly blessed and protected by the companionship of our guardian angel. In the Name of the Great Life Force I pray. Amen.