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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Guardian angels

Have you ever used the expression: “I don’t know what got into me!”?

We say that when we do something that surprises even ourselves.

That expression describes perfectly where the idea of angels and demons came from. We humans find ourselves doing things that we did not plan to do, we did not expect to do, we could not even imagine ourselves doing.

I would put the experience in different words: we human beings find ourselves following an unexpected script.

All of our behavior follows familiar patterns. We could call each pattern a script. We get a script in our head and we play the role. This is so common that in sociology the concept of role is one of the most central concepts. The term “role” is a term taken from drama, from the stage. One of the most famous sociologists in the not too distant past, Erving Goffman, made his reputation by exploring the extent to which our behavior is like the behavior of actors on a stage.

We get our scripts from daily experience, beginning from our earliest childhood. We also learn scripts from hearing stories about other people. Some of the scripts are good, such as the stories of lives of the saints, and some are bad, such as stories of robbery and murder.

For some reason, we occasionally find ourselves playing scripts or one kind or the other without consciously choosing to play that script. It is as though some outside force has “gotten into us” and caused us to do things we never expected to do. The script could be good or it could be bad. We describe the experience by saying that an angel touched us, or that a demon touched us.

Christians and Jews have insisted that God is the source of good scripts in our lives. In the Old Testament, passages often talk about an angel in one verse and God in the next verse, so that you cannot distinguish God from an angel. The authors wanted to describe how closely God was involved in a situation, but then they were afraid of making God too human-like, so they switched over to the language of angels.

The language of guardian angels is another way of expressing our belief that God is involved with us in loving ways, guiding us from day to day. God is involved with each one of us in a loving way.

In some passages of scripture, each nation has a guardian angel. Nations do follow scripts. Some of the scripts are good and some are bad.

For example, what is happening in Syria these days can only be described as some demon taking control of the whole country. Syria’s leadership has been following an evil script, with the result that millions of people have been driven from their homes, thousands have been killed, and no one can see a way out of the situation.

We Americans believe that an angel must have been operating in the beginning years of our country, when the colonial leaders somehow came up with a political system that has resulted in immense good. Those men and women somehow followed a script that no one could have predicted, because no one in history had ever experienced such a script before.

So today, as we celebrate a feast entitled “Guardian Angels,” we are celebrating the closeness that God has to each human being. God’s love surrounds us, envelops us, sometimes keeps us from falling into dangers that also surround us.

My earliest experiences of prayer took place by my bedside, where there was a picture of a child crossing a wooden plank with a crack in it, so that the child was about to step into the crack. But an angel was behind the child, watching over the situation, guarding the child from that danger. That is how close God’s love is to us.

We know of course that we do not escape all dangers. We do fall through cracks and we do get hurt or even killed. Evil is a reality. The story of Jesus—the script of Jesus’ life and death that we Christians follow—has a loving ending even when the early parts of the script include suffering and defeat and death.

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus said that he could have had thousands of angels coming to his rescue. But only one came, carrying a cup, which Jesus freely took and drank. That script is our script too. 

God loves us, each of us. We each have a guardian angel.