The Church of Angels
The Archangel Michael
The Church of Angels I. Introduction: The Building of Saint Paul’s and the Challenge to Determinism Have you ever wondered why the architect of Saint Paul’s would turn to such a medieval form as angels in the 20th century? The sheer numbers of angels suggests an intentionality. There are twenty angels extending over the congregation from the hammer-beams. Above the ceiling arches stand ten more angels holding crowns for those who have “run the race,” and for whom is reserved “the crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy). Two angels carved in stone decorate the high altar. Outside high above all in the western wall of the church stands the Archangel Michael carved in stone. Michael wards off evil from God’s people and brings peace at the end of life’s journey. On either side of the doors are two stone angels, and on the tympanum are ten carved angels. That’s a total of forty-five angels not counting others that can be discovered on the prie-dieux and plaques in the church.
Compare this to neighboring churches. The Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields was built in 1889. Absent from the church interior except perhaps in stained glass are any depictions of angels. Outside there are four angels carved in stone at the corners of an octagonal baptistery no longer in use. The font has been moved to the west entrance making the church now entirely
linear. The current church building for St. Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh is the fourth, consecrated in 1881 (Their first church was a log structure built in 1698). Again, except for painted angels rising above organ pipes on the east wall and two carved into the altar, the depiction of angels is absent. Built only forty years after these churches, why should angels distinguish Saint Paul’s?
One answer is that in the early 20th century after these neighboring churches were built but before the construction of Saint Paul’s the solid atomic structure of the universe was shaken. Quantum theory had its beginnings in 1900 with Max Planck’s research into radiation. He postulated that radiative energy came “in the form of ‘grains’ or ‘quanta.’”1.. Einstein took Planck’s idea and applied it to light describing the photo-electric effect and that light waves were composed of discrete bundles called photons. “Einstein had endowed light with a duel nature: Besides its wave characteristics, it could also take on the attributes of a particle.”2. In 1913, Niels Bohr constructed a theory of atomic structure based on quantum ideas. In 1927, one year before the cornerstone of Saint Paul’s was set in place, Werner Heisenberg formulated the uncertainty principle. One can never specify the position and velocity of an electron. It is both particle and wave. “The electron is not constrained by the shackles of determinism. It is impossible to predict where it is at any given instant.”3. Its location is uncertain. Now, for anyone who was interested in space page 3
and structure such as an architect these advances would have been in their awareness either consciously or not. Fleet and fluid, yet discreet and solid angels once again became worthy of attention. Until this point of quantum discovery, modernity explained reality only in terms of objects. Science was objective, even mechanistic. There was no place for the non-material. John Cobb, one of the world’s pre-eminent theologians, reflects, “Modern science became identified with the search for the mechanisms that determine what happens, and it emphatically excluded any questions about purpose.”4. This changed with Quantum theory’s challenge to determinism. Then a church with authenticity could recapture the medieval depiction of angels.
II.Biologist Rupert Sheldrake and the Physics of Angels John Cobb, the global leader of process theology, commends “the writings of a thoroughly open-minded biologist, Rupert Sheldrake, who asks scientists to test theories that clearly challenge their metaphysics.”5. Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist known for his hypothesis of morphic fields and resonance. “At each level, the whole is more than the sum of the parts. I suggest that this wholeness depends on what I call a morphic field, an organizing field that underlies the system’s structure. Morphic fields are structured by morphic resonance. They have memory within them. Indeed, they are the bearers of the memory inherent in nature.”6.
Sheldrake grew up “in Newark-on-Trent, a market town in Nottinghamshire, England, where there’s a magnificent medieval parish church. In the roof of the church, as in many latemedieval churches, the beams are supported by carved angels.”7. Ely Cathedral is another is another example of hammer-beam roofs with flying angels built in the mid-fifteenth century. This is also the style at Saint Paul’s Church built in 1928. The deterministic modern period that left angels behind from the 18th century on, rediscovered them again at the beginning of the Quantum period in the 20th century. Sheldrake explains, “Matter is no longer the fundamental explanatory principle but is itself explained in terms of more fundamental principles, namely fields and energy.”8. There are quantum-matter fields, electromagnetic fields, gravitational fields. They all interpenetrate one another. What if angels are also field-like and move in and out of our lives? Matthew Fox suggests, “given a universe based on the interrelationship of all things, there is a real place for angels. And consciousness among angels includes not just awareness and knowledge but also love. If angels are everywhere, then will and loving presence are also everywhere.”9. Angels connect us to the whole of creation as it unfolds, changes, and grows. Sheldrake concludes, “The angels are, as it were, the consciousness of the fields operating at all levels of nature, as in the flow of the winds and in the powers of living beings such as animals. The generative powers of nature are associated with intelligence.”10. It may be through fields that angels interact with whatever subject they encounter. Sheldrake explains, “… the angel can act upon the organism through its organizing fields, perturbing and giving new patterns to their activity. “In this way we can think of fields as the interface through which organisms and their guiding angels interact.”11.
Einstein’s endowing light with its duel nature of wave and particle leads to a fascinating angle on angels. It is not for nothing that angels have been called beings of light. One can see parallels today between angels and our current understanding of the nature of light. Sheldrake explains, “insofar as angels act in particular places, they are like particles; insofar as they are disembodied and mobile, they are like waves, vibrations in fields.”12. As such there is a kind of indeterminability to angels. Like photons, only when angels act are they localized. Otherwise, they are spread out in a probability distribution as vibrations in a field, leaving uncertainty as to precisely where they are, just as Heisenberg noted about the nature of electrons.
Angel holding crown for those who have “run the race.” page 6
III. Two Mystics Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) Perhaps Hildegard may be thought of more as a visionary than a mystic. At the age of 43 she began recording visions that she had been receiving since childhood. Unlike modernity’s materialism where meaning is explained mechanically – Hildegard’s visions may have been induced by migraines – Hildegard lived in an age of great faith. This was given expression in part in Germany’s great Romanesque cathedrals. Regardless of the mechanism, there was a larger meaning and purpose that the visions revealed. The existence of a spiritual realm was not in question. The possibility of angels had not yet been denied by the objectification of a secular society, nor had it yet been reawakened by the possibilities inherent in a quantum world. Praise One of the qualities of angels that Hildegard noted was praise. Praise recreates a world unblemished by violence and domination. It does not act upon another, but opens up to the other. Matthew Fox, expelled from the Dominican Order for his liberation and spiritually cosmic teachings, found refuge as a priest in the Episcopal Church. He writes of praise, “Praise is the act of not remaining in oneself; it’s going out. I call praise the noise that joy makes. Praise is related to joy and it takes you out of yourself, and even beyond your own suffering.”13. Hildegard wrote: “Just as sunshine shows the sun, so also angels announce God through their praise, and just as the sun cannot exist without its light, so also the Godhead is nothing without the angels’ praise.”14. How do angels communicate their praise? A mother shared this conversation with her 6 ½ year old son. The boy was beginning what developmental psychologists call a concrete operational stage of reasoning that understands the logical connection between concrete objects and events. The youngster said, “I don’t believe in angels.” When his mother asked why, he replied: “Well, they have harps and if they existed, you would hear the music.” The mother answered with a degree of humor and an intuitive page 7
sense of what Rupert Sheldrake calls resonance. “Angels are invisible,” she said, “so maybe we just can’t hear the music. But have you ever felt sad and then suddenly from somewhere (you don’t know where) you begin to feel better and happy? Maybe that’s from the music of the angels’ harps that you can’t hear. Anyway,” she said, it’s a nice idea.” Rupert Sheldrake explains resonance this way: “The classic image is the sympathetic resonance of stretched strings. I like hearing the sympathetic resonance of pianos. If you lift the lid, press down the sustaining pedal, and chant “ooo” into the piano, it will say “ooo” back to you. If you chant “aaa” into a piano on the same note as before, the piano will say “aaa” back. These vowel sounds differ in their pattern of overtones, and the different strings responding to these overtones resonate to give the vowel sound back.”15. The soul is that which resonates with God. We give the life-sound of love and praise in return to God’s Word given to us. God senses this resonance. Praise resonates with the Source of all that is. And indeed, as the mother said, happiness may at times be our resonance to the angels’ praise. Hildegard taught that angels announce God through their praise, and we reflect God’s delight in us through a resonant joy. In Holy Communion’s Great Thanksgiving the “Sanctus” in introduced by these words: “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…” We are saying that the angels are enlivening our worship, that our song resonates with their praise, our joy is amplified. Our joint music leads to action recreating a world unblemished by conflict, that is, the act of praise. Protection As mentioned in the introduction, the Archangel Michael, carved in stone and inset high on the west wall of Saint Paul’s, wards off evil and brings peace. Hildegard recognizes the protection of angels. She says, “If a human only sighs the name of its
parent, God, then God calls the human back into proper behavior and the protection of the angels rushes to the human’s side so that they will no longer be harmed by the enemy.”16. When we call upon God the angels rush in to protect us. In the Gospel of Luke, angels attend to Jesus at all the major turning points of his life. They do no less for us. Angels are there at the announcement of the births of both John the Baptist and Jesus (1:13, 30-31). Angels witness Jesus’ birth to shepherds about their business abiding in the fields (2:9). In the wilderness, after Jesus’ baptism, the devil distorts the teaching of the angels’ protection to tempt Jesus to act in a way that does not resonate with God’s will. Jesus answered, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (4:12). When we seek God’s will and call upon the angels they will be with us. Jesus reflects the resonance between humans, angels, and God when he teaches, “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God…” (12:8). In prayer on the Mount of Olives some ancient manuscripts note that angels strengthened Jesus prior to his arrest and passion (22:43). Finally, at the empty tomb women told of a vision of angels declaring that Jesus was alive (24:23). Throughout our lives we are accompanied by angels. We resonate with their praise and feel joy. They attend us at times of renewal. They rush to our aid and protect us when we are in danger. And at the end they give us strength and tell of new life. Their presence is our peace.
Snow angel at the entrance to the church Lorna Byrne (1953 – ) Matthew Fox wrote of Lorna Byrne, “Recently we (Fox and Rupert Sheldrake) have both had the privilege to sit down with Lorna Byrne, the Irish peasant woman and grandmother, still illiterate, who has now published three books on angels with whom she has been in contact since she was a little child. She was instructed not to tell of her encounters until given the word, and that word came after her husband died. Her books rapidly became bestsellers world-wide, having appeared in at least twenty-six languages at the time we write this preface (2014). It was clear to us both while speaking with Lorna that she is as authentic as they come, a true ‘sod of the earth’ of green Ireland,
direct and matter of fact, joyful and hard working and generous…. In her most recent book A Message of Hope from the Angels, Lorna emphasizes how ‘we all have a part to play in the spiritual evolution of humanity.’”17. Lorna Byrne visited Saint Paul’s (the Church of Angels) on St. Patrick’s Day, 2013. The Rector introduced her saying, “What stands out for me about Lorna Byrne’s book A Message of Hope from the Angels (2012) is its kindness. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, ‘you’ll know them by their fruits.’ The fruit of Lorna’s engagement with and experience of angels is great kindness. Kindness, to my mind, is of God. And so what she shares is true in the sense that it is Godly.” Lorna has been described as a modern-day, Irish mystic. What follows is a transcription of some of her remarks. Her full talk may be found at www.contemporarymysticism.org under Video Media. She began: “I suppose the important thing to say to all of you is that each and every one of you no matter whether you believe or you are a skeptic or what faith you have or religion, each and every one of you have a guardian angel that God has given you and your guardian angel never leaves you for one second. So you are never alone. And you are loved unconditionally. But I suppose the other thing is that your guardian angel is the gatekeeper of your soul.” Appearance “I’m just watching some of the angels stand along the side (the side aisles of Saint Paul’s). There is a huge one, I have to say, a beautiful angel up in the balcony there behind everybody. Angels may not be male, just sometimes. They give a female appearance or a male. And they give a human appearance so that we can recognize them. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t.” Guardian Angels “It doesn’t matter what religion you are, or even if you say you have no religion, no faith, you believe in nothing, you have a guardian angel and you have a soul. And to me that is incredible,
that every single human being has a soul, that is, that speck of light of God. That’s another reason why the guardian angel is the gatekeeper of your soul. “But yet the one thing inside of us that fills us, that speck (And I only call it a speck because it is literally only a speck but yet it fills every particle of your body, every piece of you.) we all have that in common whether you are good or bad. God has given you that speck of light that is your soul, and he has given you whether you are good or bad a guardian angel. And to me that is incredible. “Why, your guardian angel loves you unconditionally. Try to allow yourself to love yourself as your guardian angel does. Because I know all of us here see each other as imperfect. I know I’m imperfect as such. We all are. But yet we are all perfect and unique. I wouldn’t like us all to be the same whatsoever. “You may say your uncle or somebody died (and there are things left unresolved). There’s nothing to forgive, that any wrong you feel has been done to yourself, it doesn’t matter. Because when you die and go to heaven none of that matters. You certainly know that God is real and your guardian angel is real and you are part of God because of your soul (The soul is the light of love.). In death unhealed hatred is no more. They love you with such compassion.” Protect our Children As parents, “ask your guardian angel to help you, and of course pray because prayer is extremely powerful. And tell your child about their guardian angel. That is another very important thing because now I am hearing from parents all over the world saying that they are asking their own guardian angel to ask God to ask the child’s guardian angel to help look after the child during the school day. ‘Please God hold my child safely in every way.’ And make your children aware that they have a guardian angel and this is people of all religions. I am absolutely fascinated by that. There’s no barriers there. They’ve been taken down. page 12
And you know, children even say what a difference it makes to them at school even if they are being bullied or they’re having exams. They are so conscious that the child that is bullying them has a guardian angel. And they’re asking their own guardian angel to ask the child’s guardian angel to help the bullying to stop. And you hear back from children even a year later, ‘Lorna, it worked!’ It is to be conscious and aware that you have a guardian angel. And that has been one of the most powerful messages that has gone out to the world since I have written the book Angels in My Hair (2008).” Guidance “The guardian angels work very, very hard… to give us the messages to guide us to do right, to do good, and for something good to happen. And if you respond to it, there’s millions of good things happening in the world. The only thing is that we all only seem to notice the bad, or the negative things. So it is like the guardian angel is always telling you what to do, giving you that guidance. And so if you have guidance in any way; just say, when you go out of here and you’re being told to go right instead of left and you know your car was left, well go right! Go for that walk, and don’t say to yourself, ‘what’s the point in going right?’ But there’s a great point because your guardian angel is teaching you to respond, that when something comes along that is really important in our life, you just do it, and you just say how great you are. And the angels love that. God loves that. Angels don’t want to take any praise for themselves in any way, not even your guardian angel. And the only one you pray to is God. You don’t pray to your guardian angel. You call on them, ‘I need a helping hand here, or you may invite other angels to give me a helping hand.’ “So we all have that choice. We all have that free will to be as good as possible, and to reach out and help others; to reach out and help your children; to reach out and help your grandmother, your grandfather; to reach out and help your family in whatever ways you can. And it could be by just telling them that you love them. That can be the first step.”
Romantic Love “You have to remember I see angels as physically as you yourself sitting there. And you see each other physically as well. Just turn and look at each other and you know each other is real. But I can assure you your guardian angel is just as physical and so are unemployed angels that are here in this room. But those angels (romantic angels) are very beautiful. As Jean (Callanan, Lorna’s press agent) would say to me ‘you say every angel is very beautiful.’ But they are all very beautiful, and I call them romantic angels. In one sense angels all look alike, but these carry this golden thread and sometimes it can be just here on their shoulder. It could be anywhere, or sometimes even in their hand. And I see them even with teenagers wrap this golden thread around a boy and a girl, just teaching them about romantic love, not meaning they are to get married or anything like that. But just teaching them, because romantic love is very precious to us all. We all want someone to love. And I just think that is true with two boys or two girls as well. “And I’m supposed to tell you the other day that walking down the street and seeing this couple in their sixties or maybe older. And just seeing that golden thread wrapped around their hands as they walked along, as well as seeing their guardian angels, but seeing unemployed angels as well helping that man because he had a health problem. But the love that was between both of them was all the strength that that couple needed. “And again even then romantic love breaks up or marriage breaks. I always feel very sad when something like that happens but it does happen. And just to watch the same angels do everything possible to help the couple not to be angry with each other, not to hate each other, not to cause the huge problems you do hear of nowadays. If you have to part you should try to part with love and not with hate.” Prayer and Peace “The power of prayer is really, really powerful. I use the expression, it can move mountains. It can bring peace to this whole page 14
world. But in a sense none of us prays enough. And one thing I have been told to tell people is to pray. It doesn’t matter what religion. Or even if you are walking down the road uttering a prayer, whether it is one word, but mean what you say. Even if it is just one word, it is so important. “And I know there is so much war going on, so much even hate in families. They are separated. They are not talking to each other. And again prayer is extremely powerful there, to open the doors. “And I know one of the futures God has shown me is where all religions come together under one umbrella. And pray together. Just imagine this room here, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, whatever other religion there is, and they are all praying together in their own way, and mingled, and not afraid of each other. You’ve lost the fear of the way someone else prays. And nobody trying to convert someone else to their beliefs. It’s like you go past that. And in that future, when we get to that stage, and I believe it is starting, and there is no war because from (prayer) comes peace. And we can sure do with that in some countries at the moment, where there is war, where there is fighting.” Angels of Prayer “Any church I walk into or any place where people have gathered to pray on and off or all of the time…. We’re all sitting here but there are actually angels in here just praying as well, separate from the other angels that are here and separate from your Guardian Angel. They are Angels of Prayer. “Sometimes it’s very hard to describe. And the only way I can describe it is like you can imagine the most incredible waterfall that mankind has never seen coming down because we always imagine waterfalls coming down. But put it into your mind that powerful force (you know how powerful water is); it’s going up and it’s all angels. And the angels of prayer even before the syllable comes from your mouth they’re already there. It’s already happening…. So no one ever prays alone.”
The American Gathering Angel “America has a huge role to play (in the future). And I suppose I should go into this other part of it just to explain. From the time I was a child right up to today I see a particular angel. And as a child I was told to call them the American Gathering Angel. No other country in the world has a gathering angel…. “Each and every one of you that is here has been gathered. Just think about that. Every American that is here God at one stage (no matter how you have gotten here whether it was through good or bad, or centuries ago) had the angels gather you and bring you here where he already had the American Indian…. “You should be gathering together more and praying together because America has such an enormous role to play. America is the gateway to humanity, to the future. You have such a responsibility… God does not gather people from all religions, all faiths, from all over the world and bring you to one place. That has been done for a very good reason…. “When something is being done wrong you have to speak out, take responsibility. I know you can do that. And I know that is why God keeps sending me back to America, to keep on giving the message, and he has me speaking to all religious beliefs, to try to get you to start to pray together. You all have to work together and don’t be separating your communities. Your communities are meant to become closer together, and it all starts here. There is so much I could say that starts here… I’ve met people who say we are already doing that, in the sense that Muslims can come and pray here or Jews or Catholics or Protestants, but you find they’re in a separate room. God doesn’t mean it that way; it is really gathering together and praying together.” Evolving in the Direction of the Spirit “I believe that (spiritual evolution) is actually happening already. It is the evolution of mankind, of the body and soul intertwining, all the different strands. And it is the intertwining of our physical selves (the body, the flesh and blood) and our souls which is the spiritual part which is God. And I wish we would all do that
a bit faster!... All of us will see the guardian angels as physically as I see them and as physically as you see each other. And to me that is incredible. “Very young children can see angels. But most of the time eventually we say to them that’s not real, don’t be silly. The world contaminates them. And in one sense I understand why God did not allow me to be able to read or write, because I haven’t gotten contaminated (It’s the only way I can put it) in that way by the world. “And again a lot of elderly will have an experience of an angel. And when I’d meet many an elderly person they would whisper in my ear as I am giving a blessing, “Lorna, I have seen an angel.” But they durn’t tell their daughter or son or any member of their family in case they think they are going senile. Lots of us become like children again when we are elderly. And that is called purifying you to bring you home to heaven. You become innocent.”
Don’t miss the feast of St. Michael and All Angels every September 29 celebrated at Saint Paul’s by Evensong and Labyrinth Walks. Sunday Eucharist is at 8, 9, 10:30 a.m. and Evensong or Mindful Worship at the Labyrinth every Sunday at 5 p.m.
Notes: 1. Thuan, Trinh Xuan, translated by Reisinger, Alex; Chaos and Harmony: Perspectives on Scientific Revolutions of the Twentieth Century; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001; p. 203. 2. ibid.; p. 206. 3. ibid.; p. 97. 4. Cobb, John B., Jr.; Jesusâ€™ Abba: The God Who has Not Failed; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015; p. 41. 5. ibid.; p. 93. 6. Fox, Matthew, and Sheldrake, Rupert; The Physics of Angels: Exploring the Realm Where Science and Spirit Meet; New York: Monkfish Book Publishing, 2014 (ebook edition, accessed on Nook reader); p. 22. 7. ibid.; p. 18. 8. ibid.; p. 20. 9. ibid.; p. 67. 10. ibid.; p. 65. 11. ibid.; p. 91. 12. ibid.; p. 88. 13. ibid.; p. 100. 14. ibid.; p. 109. 15. ibid.; p. 110. 16. ibid.; p. 129-130. 17. ibid.; p. 10, 11.
Bibliography: Byrne, Lorna; Angels in my Hair: A Memoir; New York: Three Rivers Press, 2011. __________; A Message of Hope from the Angels; New York: Atria Books, 2012. Cobb, John B., Jr.; Jesusâ€™ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015. Fox, Matthew, and Sheldrake, Rupert; The Physics of Angels: Exploring the Realm Where Scence and Spirit Meet; New York: Monkfish Book Publishing, 2014 (ebook edition, accessed on Nook reader). Thuan, Trinh Xuan, translated by Reisinger, Alex; Chaos and Harmony: Perspectives on Scientific Revolutions of the Twentieth Century; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
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