Spiritual guidance for anyone seeking a path to God. explorefaith.org


Explore God's Love Explore Your Faith Explore the Church Explore Who We Are  

> Angels > The Possibility of Angels
Join our mailing list
Join our mailing list
Send this page to a friend

Support explorefaith.org

Give us your feedback
In the Company of Angels

The Possibility of Angels
by The Rev. Lowell Grisham

Since I’m a priest, people occasionally ask me questions about mysterious things. What happens to us when we die? What is heaven like? Do you believe in angels? And I always say, “I don’t know.” And, nobody else does.

What I do know is my own experience of God’s love, and I trust that as the most powerful reality in the universe. That’s what I try to live for. And I really don’t have much curiosity about the future or the afterlife. The God that I trust in is so loving, I’m not worried. Whatever God has in store is fine with me, even if it’s nothing.

I’ll go another step, however, and say that there are some wonderful clues and stories that make me think and hope that all of those marvelous things we read of in the Scriptures about heaven and angels are really true. And sometimes that tingles with so much energy that it feels downright convincing. But when I’m honest with myself, I really don’t know anything about these unseen and future things.

So I want to start by saying I don’t know anything about angels. That’s not part of my experience. But I love the stories. And there are so many of them. What if they’re true? And I get so excited at times like these, when we get to play with those stories, and nurture that part of us that can hope in things beyond our knowing.

One of my favorite parishioners in my first church in Natchez, Mississippi, was Leta Mae Steitenroth. Leta Mae was about eighty. She had curly white whispy hair and a ruddy round face with eyes that lit up like an elf. One Sunday after early church several of us were talking over coffee, and the conversation turned to surgeries. Leta Mae’s eyes lit up, and she spoke in her quick, energetic style, “Well, I don’t know if I should tell y’all this. You may think I’m crazy. But that’s okay. I had to have surgery back when I was in my 60s. And it was serious. Life-threatening. There was a good chance that I would not live through the surgery itself, and if I did, that I would suffer and just die soon.

“I tell you, after that doctor came in to have me sign those papers, I couldn’t sleep a wink. I lay there in that hospital bed thinking, ‘Leta Mae. This could be your last night on this earth.’ Yes, I did!” And then Leta Mae’s face changed— she had a distant look and her eyes seemed to focus somewhere else. “While I was lying there worrying and sleepless...” her voice slowed and became almost reverent, “I saw a light in the corner of the room. It was soft, sort of greenish, and it floated down away from the corner. And I felt a presence that was so powerful, I just knew it was Christ or God or maybe an angel. It filled me with a peace. I don’t know whether I heard a voice or it was just a powerful thought, but I knew that I would be all right. There were no promises that I would survive the surgery. But I knew, whatever happened, I would be just fine. I went to sleep and got a good night’s rest, and you can see me now. Fit as a fiddle!”

They say angels come most commonly to children and primitive people, to the innocents and saints, who maybe haven’t clouded their vision with so much sophistication. In A Book of Angels, writer Sophy Burnham describes different children’s encounters with angels:

Bridget Maher, age eight, who lives in Washington, D.C., has an angel that accompanies her everywhere. She has pink wings, says Bridget, a yellow gown, and wings for feet. She has been with Bridget since about the age of three; and when Bridget goes to sleep at night, the angel envelops her body in a spiraling rainbow to protect her when she sleeps. [When] asked ...if the angel was always with her, even when she was in company or went to school, ...she paused thoughtfully to answer: “No, unless I get a papercut at school, and then she heals it.” How? “With her magic wing.” (p.43)


This is Karen Hill’s story: When my daughter was five years old and my son was seven, we were picnicking in the Colorado mountains. They were playing by a small stream when we heard our son scream: we turned to see our daughter being sucked into the culvert. She had fallen on her head into the water. She was facedown holding on to the sides when my husband grabbed her out.

On the way home I was holding her and telling her how proud I was that she held on and how strong she was. Then I gave her a small lecture on danger—to never give up, and so on. She looked at me and said, “But Mommy, there were three tiny angels helping me; they told me to hold on, and I felt so strong.” (p. 44)

There are stories of Russian cosmonauts seeing angels in space; French, English and German soldiers seeing angels during a battle; angels who come in dreams, and many, many more.

But there’s a more mundane angelic ministry that’s not so spectacular and yet is equally wonderful. The word “angel” means simply “messenger.” Angels are the messengers of God. And we’ve all known angels. Mrs. Whiteside taught every fifth grader who grew up at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oxford, Mississippi. She always taught “The Church Year,” and when you finished Mrs. Whiteside’s class, you knew The Church Year. You knew the seasons and the colors and the themes. The Church Year was part of your identity and your life’s rhythm.

At the end of the year she always gave each child a fine cloth bookmark with a different cross on it. She taught us about each cross. I remember mine. It was a beautiful bright green, and green became my favorite color. On it was sewn a magnificent Celtic cross; and it became my favorite cross, like what I wear around my neck today. When I was called to my first church as rector, St. Columb’s Church where Celtic crosses abound, I felt almost destined to be there, led in part by Mrs. Whiteside, one of God’s messengers to me. And I’ve spoken before of my parish priest and later bishop, Duncan Gray, one of my angels, a messenger of God for me.

You’ve known angels too. People who have communicated some of God’s love and grace to you. In one of my previous churches we created some simple “Angel Cards” and sent three to each parishioner, inviting them to think of people who had been angels to them, messengers of God, and to send them a note to say “thank you.”

You’ve known some flesh and blood angels. Maybe you’ve been an angel for someone; you’ve been one of God’s messengers too. And, maybe many of you have known some of the other kinds of angels, not of flesh and blood. There are so many wonderful things. So many amazing coincidences. I like to hear those stories of amazing things. I love the Small Miracles series of books that collect heartwarming stories of extraordinary coincidences. And I like the books that collect stories of angels.

When I got ready to work on this sermon, I started looking for one of my books of angel stories. I couldn’t find one. I’ve misplaced or lent them. So I went to the parish library to look for one of their angel books. I looked at every single book on every shelf. No angel books.

Just as I was getting ready to give up and start telephoning around, I stopped and thought, “Why not? I’ll ask. Angels, help me out here!”

I felt my way to one small section. Nothing there. Just below that. No. I was about to shrug my shoulders and leave, when my eye were drawn to the bottom shelf. There it was—Sophy Burnham’s A Book of Angels. And you’ve just heard some of her stories.

Just a coincidence? Or Angels? Hmmm. I leave that to you. But it all just might be true. Wouldn’t that be neat?

First preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas, September 29, 2002, Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Copyright ©2002 Lowell Grisham



In the Company of Angels

Mystery and Mysticism

Reflections on Advent & Christmas

Send an e-card from explorefaith



(Return to Top)


Send this article to a friend.

Home | Explore God's Love | Explore Your Faith | Explore the Church | Who We Are
Reflections | Stepping Stones | Oasis | Lifelines | Bulletin Board | Search |Contact Us |
Copyright ©1999-2007 explorefaith.org