Today, September 29, is the Feast Day for the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. It’s traditionally known as “Michaelmas” and in the Episcopal Church it’s called the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.
So for today I thought I’d write a bit about the angels, and how they can impact our lives, both spiritually and in general.
I’m reminded of my one of my wife’s favorite authors, Lorna Byrne. Lorna Byrne is an Irish visionary, who speaks of her capacity to see — and interact with — angels. Her books, like Angels in My Hair and Stairways to Heaven, are international bestsellers. Her writing is filled with stories that are inspiring, hopeful, and even mystical, as she recounts how angelic spirits literally surround and support every one of us, and continually pray for us and desire to help us in our own life journeys.
But here’s something the angels have told Byrne: they won’t help us unless we ask. She describes many angels as “unemployed” because they wish to serve human beings, but we never bother to seek their guidance or their help.
God wants us to be happy and enjoy our lives, and so he sends angels to help us. We have so much spiritual help waiting for us, and while some of us do reach for help, many of us don’t. Angels walk beside us telling us they are there, but we are not listening: we don’t want to listen. We believe that we can do everything ourselves. We have forgotten that we have a soul, and we believe that we are simply flesh and blood. We believe that there is nothing more—no afterlife, no God, no angels. It is no wonder that we have become materialistic and self-obsessed. Human beings are much more than flesh and blood, and as you become aware of this and start to believe that you have a soul, your connection with the angels will blossom.
Before you dismiss this as only so much fanciful new age thinking, let me point out that this is a theme that shows up again and again: spiritual help is available to us, but only if and when we ask for it.
When Fran told me about this idea from Lorna Byrne, it immediately reminded me of the twentieth-century Catholic mystic, Valentin Tomberg. His classic book Meditations on the Tarot (which, despite the occult-sounding title, is actually a book of Christian mystical theology) offers this interesting insight into the behavior of angels: that just as God, who is infinite and pure love, exists to serve all of God’s creation, so too angels pour their entire existence into service as well. Guardian angels, therefore, exist to serve humankind. But such service is never forced on us.
But—and this is the tragic side of Angelic existence—this geniality shows up only when the human being has need of it, when he makes room for the flashing forth of its illumination. The Angel depends on man in his creative activity. If the human being does not ask for it, if he turns away from him, the Angel has no motive for creative activity… An Angel who has nothing to exist for is a tragedy in the spiritual world.
Tomberg goes on to make this appeal to his readers: “think of your guardian Angel when you have problems, questions to resolve, tasks to accomplish, plans to formulate, cares and fears to appease! Think of [your guardian Angel] as a luminous cloud of maternal love above you, moved by the sole desire to serve you and to be useful to you.”
Spiritual Blessings Available — for the Asking
I find it electrifying that two spiritual writers, as different on the surface as Lorna Byrne and Valentin Tomberg, would offer what is essentially the same bit of advice: to trust that angels delight in serving humanity, that for them such spiritual service is a natural expression of their highly evolved nature, but — because they are so highly evolved — they will never interfere in our lives without our express consent and desire for them to do so.
To put it simply: when you need any kind of help in life, ask your angels.
There’s a charming story in Welsh mythology, recounted in The Mabinogion, of the goddess Rhiannon, who rides her shining white horse each day in the woods of Dyved in Wales. The prince of Dyved, Pwyll, has been promised that he would be shown “a marvel,” which clearly this heavenly woman must be. Pwyll is entranced by her beauty and sends his best horsemen to ask her to meet with the prince. But even though it seems that Rhiannon’s horse is merely trotting, Pwyll’s men on their galloping steeds cannot overtake her.
Finally, on the third day Pwyll himself decides to go and meet this shimmering vision of a woman. Again, she is seen on her beautiful horse, casually trotting along; Pwyll’s horse gallops to overtake her but cannot. Finally, Pwyll in desperation calls out to the woman, asking her to stop so that they might speak. Immediately she stops, and turns and says “Gladly, Lord, since you have the courtesy to ask it of me.” She goes on to note, “Far better for your horse would it have been, man of Dyved, had you had the grace to ask me to stop sooner.”
Yes, Rhiannon and Pwyll eventually marry — but not after his foolishness causes more mischief in their relationship.
Asking — as a spiritual practice — is commended to us even by Jesus, who said, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). Granted, Jesus here is speaking about the importance of asking God for what we need, but the principle — ask for what you need — surely applies to our angelic relationships as well.
Indeed, it’s a principle that applies to earthly relationships. Musician Amanda Palmer gave a highly-viewed Ted Talk and followed it up with a book titled The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help. Especially here in America, we live under the long shadow of Henry David Thoreau and others who preached self-reliance as if it were the only way to lead a worthy life. Well, yes, it’s good to be able to take care of ourselves, no one wants to be a burden. But when our attachment to independence undermines our capacity to allow others — whether material or spiritual — the joy of helping, we not only rob them of one of life’s great pleasures, but we also stunt our own capacity to live fully and abundantly.
Last of all, I’m reminded of a self-help book I once read called Write it Down, Make it Happen. The premise of this thoroughly secular book was simple: when we write down our goals, whether as simple as a bucket list or as elegant as a carefully crafted mission statement, we set into motion subconscious and intuitive energies in our lives that work to make these dreams come true. There’s nothing “woo-woo” here — just an apparent principle that knowing what we want helps us to structure our lives to achieve it.
Back to our friends the angels. If we can “work magic” even by merely writing down our goals and dreams, what possibilities become available to us when we allow our heart to articulate, with humility and openness, our needs and desires to the angels who watch over us? If you are a skeptic, I dare you: what harm could such asking do? At the very least, it’s a variation on “write it down, make it happen.”
But as a person of faith, who has seen enough mysterious things in my life: from accidents narrowly averted, to illnesses suddenly healed, to doors opening against seemingly impossible odds — I’m convinced that spiritual help is available to us all. Only God is infinite, which means our angels cannot deliver infinite miracles all the time. But I do believe that blessings are an untapped resource in most of our lives. Let’s ask for what we need, and for what we want, and especially for the spiritual blessings we all long for, deep in our hearts. And then marvel as the hidden work of the angels begin to unfold in your life.
So for this Michaelmas day — or whatever day you might be reading this — take some time to open your heart to the silent loving presence of the angels, including your own guardian angel. They are eager to be a blessing in your life. Don’t deny them the joy that they will find by loving and caring for you.
Featured photo by Gavin Allanwood.