they come, who they are, what they do for us…
about angels with author Vinita Hampton Wright
an excerpt from A Catalogue of Angels
More about angels
the past few years, there has been growing interest in angels. Why
are we so taken with these heavenly beings?
that we carry within us a deep, intuitive sense that we are not
alone in the universe. One of our oldest Christian creeds speaks
of God as being the creator of things “seen and unseen.”
So since the early centuries of Christianity, our spiritual leaders,
teachers, and mystics have acknowledged that there are realms of
existence we barely perceive, let alone understand. In faith systems
all over the planet there has persisted this image of otherworldly
beings who come to our aid, who are more spirit than we are. Ancient
Judaism included a very active belief in angels as those spirit
beings sent by God to help us in various ways. Christianity sprang
out of Judaism and continued in the belief of angels. Islam picked
it up from those two earlier traditions, plus there were already
beliefs in angels throughout Persia and the Middle East.
reason that belief in angels continues is that people
have personal experiences with angels. And not just a few people,
but a significant portion of the population. People
don’t always talk about their experiences, because they’re
afraid others will think them delusional. Many people who encounter
angels are not what we (or they) would identify as devout Christians;
it appears that God sends angelic help wherever God wants to send
it, and it’s often the angelic encounter that awakens spiritual
hunger in the person.
do you say to those who believe angels reside only in our dreams
I would say that belief in angels should at least parallel a person’s
belief in other unexplainable phenomena. For instance, if you believe
the Gospel stories of Jesus and the early Church, then you really
can’t avoid believing that angels are real beings. After Jesus
had fasted forty days and nights and been tempted by the devil (a
real devil? or an imaginary one?), angels came and ministered to
him. An angel came to encourage him during that awful night in the
Garden of Gethsemane, when he was saying a final “yes”
to God’s will, which included Jesus’ crucifixion and
death. Angels came to the prison and physically led out the disciples
who had been arrested for preaching about Jesus.
you believe that everything miraculous—that is, unexplainable—that
occurs in Scripture is symbolic or imaginary, then it makes
you would believe angels to be merely imaginary.
Jesus took angels seriously, even saying to his disciples when
he was arrested that if he chose, he could ask the Father, who
send legions of angels to his rescue. I don’t think he was
speaking in metaphors there.
angels ever take human form?
often take human form. This happens throughout the Scriptures, one
of the most famous stories being that of the three strangers who
visited Abraham and Sarah, to predict the birth of their son and
to let Abraham know that they were traveling on to Sodom and would
possibly have to destroy the city for its wickedness.
contemporary accounts of angelic assistance, it’s quite common
for someone to meet another “person” who helps them
in some extraordinary way and then simply disappears. For evidence
of this type, read the books or visit
the web site of Joan Wester Anderson, who has made a career
out of tracking and collecting people’s stories of angelic
an angel takes the form of an animal. According to standard Christian,
Jewish, and Muslim belief, an angel can take any form it wishes
but often this spiritual helper will come to us looking and acting
like another human being. The reason for this is obvious; I won’t
run from an ordinary-looking person who is trying to help me, but
I might run if some spiritual presence approaches me, because it’s
difficult to understand what’s happening with a spiritual
presence. I may think it’s a ghost, or even something evil.
If it’s a balding man wearing a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt and
who is pleasant and helpful, I’m much more likely to accept
we aware of their presence when we are visited by angels?
we are not aware, and if we become aware of it, it’s only
after the event has passed. Angels are very good at sneaking in
and out of situations. I have edited some of Joan Anderson’s
books, and I asked her about this. She said that, in her follow-up
of a story—she tries to verify as much as she can, and she’s
learned to sense when a story is authentic—she often finds
that the person has a foggy idea of what is going on when the encounter
is happening, and only afterward does it become apparent. Again,
this is probably by design; the angel does not want to frighten
a person so much that he or she will resist the help that’s
other times, the person knows right away. Experiences vary, and
I think it has to do with how a person is able to perceive and accept
what God is trying to do through the assistance of the angel. We
see various types of encounter throughout the Scriptures, as well.
When Gabriel visits Mary, she understands pretty quickly that this
is an angel. The shepherds knew right away, which is why the first
thing the angels say is, “Fear not!” In fact, “Fear
not!” is usually the first thing the angels say in the biblical
we don’t always know we are being visited by an angel,
we will sometimes have a very peaceful, calm sense when
we’re around the person who is in fact an angel.
For instance, when a man offered to walk my grandmother home through
a bad neighborhood when she was a young woman and working in the
big city, she didn’t feel at all threatened by him, even though
he was a stranger. And she let him walk her home. When she unlocked
her door and turned to thank him, he was gone. From where she stood,
she would have seen him leaving down the street. He had vanished.
She knew then that he was an angel.
before she knew he was an angel, she knew that he was safe and would
not hurt her. So it seems that we are given a sense of safety or
calm that allows us to interact with the stranger who is actually
an angel. And later we figure out that the stranger was in fact
not human at all, but a heavenly visitor.
you tell us more about how angels influence or interact with ordinary
show up as other people and offer help—a place to stay, a
meal, directions, transportation, whatever. When they don’t
show up in human form, they sometimes influence us by bringing to
us a strong sense of something; a woman is driving down the street
and suddenly knows she must stop, although her physical senses give
her no reason to stop—there’s no child running into
the street—and she stops, and then the child darts out from
between two parked cars. Or you are awakened by an audible voice
saying a loved one’s name, and you phone that person or pray
for him or her, and find out that he or she was at that moment in
Christian doctrine about angels instructs us that they do not read
our minds or possess us in any way. Only
the Holy Spirit can truly know our spirit and work with us at that
level. But angels can send us thoughts and hunches.
They can affect us physically so that we are compelled to do something;
a classic example is the lost hiker hearing engine noises and walking
toward the sound. He ends up finding people and help, but learns
that there were no engines anywhere around there. You often hear
of a person’s sense of sound or touch or sight being manipulated
in a way that helps them.
also assist us spiritually, in ways that I cannot explain. Since
the ancient Jews, people of faith have believed that angels assist
our prayers and are involved when we gain spiritual insight. They
bear witness to all that happens to us.
God is always with us, why do we need angels?
that God uses angels because we are not always ready, able, or willing
to face God directly. Remember when Elijah fled from the wicked
Jezebel, after he had defeated all the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel?
The man was exhausted and depressed, and he went out and hid in
a cave and asked God to take his life. The guy was wasted. Well,
God didn’t enter conversation with Elijah right away. First,
God sent an angel, who brought the prophet food and drink, told
him to eat and get more rest. This happened twice. Then, finally,
Elijah encountered God in the “still, small, voice.”
speak of Jesus as being our friend, and of God as being our friend,
or father. But God’s glory is so beyond us; God’s presence
is so overwhelming and so impossible for us to grasp, that God sent
Jesus, a man, to help us know how to relate to God. And even Jesus
is so beyond what we can know that sometimes we need a person to
come along with a tow truck. We need an angel to come by, briefly,
and help us on our way.
wants us to live fully as human beings, and while we’re in
the space and time we call our life on Earth, we learn gradually
what it is to be spiritual beings, too. We learn over a lifetime
what it means to pray. We begin to accept that possibly we have
powers of the soul that were not apparent before. Angelic
encounters help us begin to relate to a universe and a world of
the spirit that we are just beginning to know. The
Scriptures say that, eventually, we will be like the angels themselves.
We are being prepared to exist as redeemed souls in the very realms
of heaven. So it’s not surprising that we hear from the spirits
who are already residing there.
book explores angels in the ancient writings of Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam. What can you tell us about angels’ presence in
our world today?
God, and in the spiritual realm, there is no past, present, or future.
We just happen to be living in time right now. I think that what
the angels were doing centuries ago is not much different from what
they are doing today. It’s just that today they drive cars
and use the Internet. All that’s small stuff. God sends them
to us to help us move toward our full life of holiness. Angels still
calm us when we are afraid, still send us messages when we are desperate
for information. They still pull us out of physical danger and influence
our dreams and our senses in order to help us do what we need to
do and go where we need to go. They still help our prayers do God’s
will in the world. Together with the angels—as well as the
saints, those who have gone before us—we bring God’s
kingdom to life in the here and now.
Read an excerpt
from A Catalogue of Angels
More about angels
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