Monday, September 29, 2008

Angel Alert

Today is the feast of Gabriel, Michael and Raphael, the archangels. Or as God likes to call them, "My homies."

My mom has this great friend; whenever someone needs prayers, Mom or others will call her, and this person she will send out an "angel alert" to get things moving. I have, in fact, heard messages on my parents' answering machine from the lady declaring an alert and asking everyone to get praying.

What do angels do -- they intercede, right? Whether it's feeding Jesus in the desert, informing Mary that God has a surprise coming her way, or battling evil spirits, angels roll up their sleeves and get involved. At various times they are God's soldiers, his emissaries, his voice, his royal court -- but always an embodiment of his spirit. To talk about angels is really to talk about God's love, God's kingship, God's active justice.

There's also that image of the angelic choir. Sometimes we hear that that's what we have to look forward to -- we'll all be part of the angelic choir, praising God. I love to sing, so sign me up. Although -- if we're talking harps and clouds, and everyone laughing energetically at everyone's jokes, I may have a previous commitment. (As a sometime joke teller myself I have to say, sometimes the funniest moments are the ones where you fail abysmally. Don't get me started.)

Anyway, the angelic choir: it reminds me of a creation story I read in The Silmarillion, JRR Tolkien's prequel to the Hobbit & the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien imagines God and his angels (Iluvatar and the Ainur) out there before the existence of everything, and each angel has a song that God has given them to sing. They sing alone or in small groups, and it's nice, but maybe a bit fragmented.

Until, that is, God draws them all together and conducts them. Their melodies brought together are an astonishing, wondrous creation -- in fact, it is the creation. Their song is the story of everything brought to life. It rolls on and on, magnificent, until one angel -- there's always got to be one -- begins to resist the group's melody and put forwards his own, creating dissonance and conflict. Some of the Ainur stop singing as he and others take on this alternate melody with strong voices.

But God works with the dissonance, as well, drawing it in and allowing it to become a part of the song. Melkor and his mates resist, getting louder, more opposed, but God works with it once again. The music that emerges "was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came."

This might be an interesting image for us. Like the angels, God gives us individually and together songs to sing. And that act of singing (which means not necessarily singing but whatever it is we do, using our medicine, as the Lakota say, or our mojo... letting your freak flag fly)... that activity is very important. It's not just a hobby or a sideline or silly nonsense, but the means by which we create and heal and help redeem the world and one another.

So stay out there, pay attention to the conductor and keep on singing.

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