Monday, December 11, 2006

A Forest of Angels

It’s still autumn here, though winter’s chills and rains are already beginning. But when the sun is shining, there’s still a feel of fall all around, still golden leaves against sky-blue skies, still a crispness in the air and a crunchiness underfoot that in some inarticulate way satisfy the soul.

I recently went for a little prayer-walk up the mountain, as I am wont to do on nicer days. I was kicking through the fallen leaves as I proceeded (that’s what they’re there for, by the way). Since we live in a forest and have no “yard” to speak of, and no next-door neighbors to complain, we never have to rake leaves, so their abundant layers are just pure fun.

I was reflecting upon things I’ve been reading—especially about angels and their ever-present activity and ministrations on our behalf—and about a certain spiritual vision of life that seems to be impressing itself upon me more and more (and which I hope to write about in detail in the coming months). I concluded that, after all I’ve been reading and realizing and reflecting upon, this forest ought to be full of angels. But I didn’t see any angels, so I wondered if this were not merely a pleasant though vacuous fantasy.

A few minutes later, a strong wind suddenly filled the forest. I looked around, and with great wonder and joy saw thousands of oak leaves fluttering on the wings of the wind, like lively snow flurries, dancing in the air with joyful abandon. So, the forest is full of angels! I marveled to myself. Not that a leaf is an angel, but rather a metaphor for one, a way of telling us that what we can’t see nevertheless is. What we think is mere tree or dirt or stone is but a curtain for a chorus of immortal beings who can barely restrain themselves from appearing directly to us and telling of the glory of God. I turned round in wonder, looking in all directions as leaves lighted on my head or at my feet or on the nearest madrone or fir. Yea, He has commanded his angels to keep us in all our ways, lest we dash our foot against a stone. And does He not, as the psalmist testifies, “make the winds [his] messengers”? (Recall that in Greek the term angelos means “messenger.”) Ah, so the winds are his angels, and they wear oak leaves on their wings!

As I was walking back down the mountain, behold, one of our guests on retreat was walking up. I noticed that she had stopped and was gazing into the woods. I wondered if she was thinking what I was thinking. As I drew closer, she turned to me and said, “The leaves, they are like snowflakes!” And I immediately exclaimed, without thinking at all: “They are angels!” She looked at me just a bit quizzically, and so I said, “Well, that’s the way I look at it.” She agreed that it was a good way to look at it.

There are no two angels alike, just like there are no two snowflakes alike—and there are probably no two oak leaves alike, either! St Thomas Aquinas even says that each individual angel is its own species, testifying to the infinite creativity of God.

It’s time we all started opening our eyes just a bit wider, peering just a bit more deeply into the mystery of life, praying that the veil be lifted just a little more—so we can become aware of forests of angels and of every way that our Creator and God is “everywhere present and filling all things.” He hides, not so that we won’t find Him, but so that we will—and thus rejoice in the discovery much more than if it were always physically manifest before our eyes.

“Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” The forest is waiting. Let’s go for a walk, shall we?