I don’t believe in angels.

Really, I don’t believe in angels, at least the bewinged, sweet-cheeked, watching-over-me kind.  Hell, not even the angry, fear-not, sword-in-hand Gabriel types make any sense to me.  But on Tuesday, my whole understanding of what angels might be was turned over on its head.  Now, we all have people in our lives who we tend to call “angels.”  My step-mom, a woman who pretty much single-handedly strong armed me into faith through constant, pressing, consistent love and a practicality of living during one of the hardest times in my life, I’ve been known to call her an angel.  There have been people who have stepped in and out of my life at precisely the right time and place who I might designate that way.  Tuesday, I met a real one, nose-to-nose.  Let me explain. 

When I visited Good Works Christian community in Athens, Ohio, this week, I met a collection of folks who constantly listen to one another for the voice of God, who read and think and pray over the world’s problems and the small lives they touch.  It was very nice, intellectually interesting.  I walked through the two days I was there overcome by their persistence and openness to looking for where God is working, but it wasn’t personal.  Sort of a “oh, look how faithful they are!” observational-type involvement.  I was there to learn, to read them, to listen.  So Someone stepped it up a notch and dunked me.  I took a walk on the farm in the snowy, ice-cold morning, around 9:30.  As I made a turn toward the creek, planning to put my head into the cutting wind and turn over what I was learning, I heard someone call my name.  Looking back, I saw Jim, one of the men on staff in the community.  He runs the Transformation Station, a place where people in need in the community come to volunteer time in order to earn resources like washing machines, cars, and extra food boxes, a wonderful ministry.  I’d spoken with Jim at length at lunch the day before, telling him a little about my seminary journey and hearing his stories of working at the station.  He’d been particularly talkative about the deep need in the county for increased mental health care and the silent but terrifying extent of incest in Appalachian families with whom he works (and from which he comes).  It was a nice conversation, right up my interest-alley.  Jim is a rather quiet guy, of the area, straight talking and kind, very much an Appalachian man.  At bible study Tuesday morning, he revealed he is a thoughtful theologian, a pastoral and compassionate person with a simple faith that pervades his life through and through.  I’d been impressed by him.

But here I was, out in the woods, taking a walk, and he’s coming at me.  I confess, my experience as a young person, a woman used to city men and their manner, my first thought was, “Oh, no… he’s going to make a pass at me.”  I steeled myself, trying to figure out how to reject him kindly and salvage our tiny connection.  This does not make me proud.  He sort of squared his shoulders and took a really deep breath, then said, “Here goes.  I’ve got something the Lord told me to say to you.”  I became even more nervous, thinking that repelling a come-on-mandated-by-the-very-Lord would be a particular challenge.  I asked him to go on, my eyes watering from irritation, at him and with the cold air stinging my face. 

Jim proceeded to say things to me – about me – that he had no way of knowing, things only my own sad heart and Godself know that I say to myself when I’m alone and certain no one can see my face.  He told me that God loved me, loves me, despite the things I thought were separating me from God.  He told me not to worry about my journey, that I am pushing too hard, going too fast, and that God wants me to breathe and slow down.  Jim told me that I am called to be an amazing leader and that my faith is strong enough to get me through if I hold onto it.  He told me I can’t save everybody, and if I want to do that, God’s not going to help me destroy myself.  He told me about some of my relationships, about my need for perfection, about my self-expectations.  Then he told me God loves me.  And again, and again, and again he told me.  He talked for fifteen minutes without stopping, eye to eye, burning me to my very soul.  This kind man looked me straight in the face and told me not be afraid. 

Now, I don’t know how much Bible you read, but even if all you know is the Christmas story, you know that angels love to tell the people they’re talking to, “Be not afraid.”  They also like to say things like, “God is with you.”  Mary got that message from the angel when she got the message she was pregnant with Jesus.  The women at the tomb, same thing.  Be not afraid.  Don’t fear.  God’s with you, and loves you.  Angel talk. 

I said at the start of this blog, back in October, that I’d be vulnerable in it.  I’ve been trying.  It’s hard work, something I’m moving into, feeling out, trying the size and shape of.  I won’t share what specific things in my life Jim brought up during his “visitation,” out there on that snow-caked grassy path because they involve other people’s pain as well as my own and most of it wouldn’t make any sense to you all, anyhow.  But it’s pretty challenging for me even to talk about this, so you’re getting at least this much because I think it’s essential.  It’s life-saving.  It’s the gospel.  I got a visit from an angel.  The Greek means “messenger” – Lord, I got the message.  The Message.  But I didn’t get just that, as if it’s not enough.  I also now understand that God does have angels, and they come in surprising shapes and at the oddest times.  They come in the form of people who are so attentive to God’s voice, to the needs of those in their immediate circle of experience, that they can come up to a near-stranger and trust that God won’t steer them wrong with this one.  Jim took an enormous chance coming to me that morning.  I’d known him 18 hours, and he didn’t know me from Adam.  I could have rejected him.  I could have said I didn’t want to hear what he had to say.  Worse, I could have heard him out with a condescending but kind smile on my face and then written him off.  But he took the chance I wouldn’t.  Instead, he prayed over me, covered me with love, surrounded me with a hedge of protection against the bad, painful, and evil forces that afflict my life.  He preached the love of God to me.  Then he turned around and disappeared into the house. 

If wings had popped out of the back of his coveralls, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all.  No, sir.  So I am not afraid, and I believe in angels now.  Real ones.  God is good… all the time.

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10 Comments »

  1. peregrinatio Said:

    Holy _____ Wow

  2. honeywasp Said:

    yeah. I know. seriously. still working through this one. ever had an experience like this? i’m looking for perspective…

  3. April Said:

    wow. thank you for sharing.

  4. April Said:

    okay, back. This post was worth more than a, “that’s nice, thanks for sharing.”

    I envy your willingness to be open, to take this in, to be open to the mere *possibility* that this could be a holy and divine thing. I admire that you have the nerve to put this out there on Teh Internets(tm) for all to see and read. I am in awe that you are able to process so quickly and put this amazing experience in a form I can understand.

    Thank you.

  5. Jim Bingman Said:

    Wow. I didn’t know what an amazing experience this was for you, why didn’t you tell me?

  6. Chrissy Joy Said:

    Jules, I think I just held my breath during that whole post. Yeah, I have no perspective… but um, yeah. Oh, and I love you.

  7. Dawn Said:

    There’s a whole lot more here than what I picked up on yesterday at the meeting – and your writing is stunning! I’ve never experienced the same, exactly (of course), but it is so like God. The part that is most convincing – that is most like God – is the complete surprise and the repeated insistence on God’s love for you. In my experience, that’s an overwhelming and difficult thing… at least if deep down you’re convinced that you’re unlovable. And then there’s the question of, “What does it mean to be spoken to directly by God (via God’s angel) in this way?” I’m sure that what you heard was truth. It’s also something to live into… I confess that I’ve never been good about trusting the “do not be afraid” part. I’m sure you’ll do better than me on this one, but I’ve found that even when I get it all wrong, that does nothing to change the “I love you” part or the other things that were communicated. There’s no easy way to legitimately process these things… which is part of the wonder of it…

  8. honeywasp Said:

    that’s one of the things this experience really brought out for me – the idea that it doesn’t matter how any one of us feels… God is still there, is really watching and waiting, and is still working out some mending process (that I confess I don’t understand) in our lives, even when we’re pretty certain none of that is happening. I’m starting to see God as a behind-the-scenes sort of God. Like those people in stage productions who work the lights and the staging, changing the audience’s perspective without anyone really recognizing that’s what’s going on. The light’s there and moving regardless of whether we notice the intricacies of the process.
    I’m going to be thinking about this angel thing for a long time.

  9. cordelia Said:

    You are the partner of her loneliness,
    the unspeaking center of her monologues.
    With each disclosure you encompass more
    and she stretches beyond what limits her,
    to hold you.
    —Rainer Maria Rilke
    I am grateful for this gift to you. Hold on to it, for these moments have a way of receding as we go about our lives. Talk to me sometime about Mitch Decker.

  10. honeywasp Said:

    Thank you, Cordelia. Rilke always says it exactly the way it should be said.
    Just so you all know, I emailed Keith at Good Works about these posts, too. I’d hesitated to do that until I read your comments, then realized I was afraid to share this with him, in case it sounded… I don’t know actually what I was afraid it would sound like. Anyhow. I did.
    One small step toward vulnerability and openness, I suppose.


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