Can you see angels?

But God’s world includes angels

Matthew 18:1-10 About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven … Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.”

“An artist is one still able to see angels,” Madeleine L’Engle tells me in Walking on Water. “To be visited by an angel is to be visited by God. To be touched by an angel is to be touched by God.”

Shutterstock: melitas

Immediately, of course, I think of Karis. Dave joked as she was growing up that she needed two guardian angels, not just one, to keep her safe through all her adventuring and exploits. But in reading her journals, I discovered she had three, and often saw them and took comfort and guidance from them.

Those of us around her, intent on keeping Karis safe and alive, tried to limit her, because she seemed to have missed out on common sense. Where is the line between fearlessness and stupidity?

We thought, silly us, looking at all we had invested in her life, that she “owed” us this: to walk within boundaries of safety, to not risk her costly life on (to us) frivolous pleasures. I placed value on what it took for me and others to support her in her extravagant ideas.

But for Karis, every day of life was Gift. So many times, doctors had said her broken body could no longer support life, yet she lived on. This made her careless, or overconfident, or too trusting, from the point of view of us who did not see her guardian angels or accept her absolute conviction that she would live “not one minute more or less than God has planned for me.”

“Where is the line between responsible faith and reckless presumption?” I would ask her.

“Ah, Mama, you worry too much. No one has ever solved the dilemma of free will vs. predestination. You need to embrace the both-and, not try to reduce it to either-or.” A deflection. I was not comforted. I did not worry less.

So if an artist is one still able to see angels, in what ways was Karis an artist? I remember her economics professor at Notre Dame telling me that after he graded Karis badly on an essay filled with her customary multi-hued imagery and made her rewrite it in proper academic diction, she thereafter submitted two essays for every assignment: one she wrote for herself, and one she wrote for him. “Economics is about Life,” she told him. “I can only understand it in that context. Then I translate it for you into the language that makes sense to you.” His view of his subject was transformed.

And that’s what she did for all of us who paid attention. She taught us to listen, to see, to go deeper. To embrace mystery, rather than try to tame it. To touch Joy. And Freedom.

Ah, Karis. I’m so glad James sees you dancing. With the angels. With Jesus.

Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.

But God’s word is trustworthy

Acts 27:9, 20-26 We [apparently Luke was along on this voyage] had lost a lot of time. The weather was becoming dangerous for sea travel because it was so late in the fall, and Paul spoke to the ship’s officers about it. … A terrible storm raged for many days, until all hope was gone. No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss.

But take courage! … For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ So, take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said.

Whenever I see a reference to angels in the Bible, I mark it with an A. Biblical writers comment on angels matter-of-factly. Karis did too; for her they were a part of normal life. Several times in her journals she mentions seeing her guardian angels. As her father sometimes commented, she pushed her limits so recklessly she needed more than one. Because she saw her angels from time to time, I wonder whether the net effect was to make her bolder, rather than more careful (as her mother often would have preferred).

But God speaks to me in other ways. As far as I remember, I’ve never seen an angel, nor heard one speak. Have you? If you have an angel story, I would love to hear it!

One artist’s depiction of a guardian angel Shutterstock: Zwiebackesser

In fact if you have a “But God” story (and I’m sure you do!) I would love to hear it and post it to encourage others. We’re surrounded by so many challenges in this broken world that we need to take note when God intervenes in our stories, as Luke did in writing Acts. “Remember and tell!” are frequent invitations in Scripture, especially in the Psalms.

Don’t you remember better when you put an experience into words, and when you share it with others? Whether in the moment happy or sad, scary or tranquil, our interface with God helps us plant our feet more firmly and hearten each other more concretely. “This happened to me” carries more punch than just about anything else we can say.

We wouldn’t know this story—about Paul standing up in the middle of a typhoon to encourage his shipmates with what he heard an angel say to him—had Luke not taken the time and trouble to write it down. So, I challenge you: take the time. Record for yourself, for your family, for your friends, for people you don’t even know, what God has done for you. Share with us how he has intervened in your wild and precious life.

I’ll make you a bet: once it’s clear in your own mind, clear enough to write, God will give you opportunities to share your experience with others who need it. As Paul said, “Take courage!” Believe God. He even sends angels to communicate with us. Pass it on.