The daisies which bloom at this time of year are named after Michaelmas, the feast of St Michael and All Angels. I like the echo this gives of the beautiful Talmudic saying that “Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, Grow! Grow!”.
Angels are part of the mystery of our faith, part of a way of understanding the world that takes us beyond the material and factual into the unseen and unproveable. In scripture they are agents of God’s purpose, bringing messages of reassurance – ‘do not be afraid’, of challenge – as in Jacob’s wrestling match, of calling – as Mary encountered through Gabriel. They are also agents of God’s justice, fighting evil like the superheroes of the spiritual world with wings in the place of capes.
I wouldn’t stake my faith on the actual existence of angels – they aren’t a necessary part of the story of God’s loving, creative interaction with humanity, more like an entertaining sub-plot. But I like to think they exist. I like to think that an angel hovers over each child whispering ‘Grow! Grow!’. I like to imagine that the world is full of creatures beyond my sight and understanding. I like to believe that my beloved dead are sung home by a whole choir of angelic voices. It makes the universe feel more alive, more loved and more beautiful to picture it filled with the fluttering of angel wings.
But I have one caveat to belief in angels. Such belief becomes less than helpful if we rely on angels to provide the love, life and beauty of the world. Rather than relying on a heavenly figure to nurture every child we should consider how we can do this ourselves. Rather than trusting angels to fight evil for us we should be out there committing ourselves to work for justice and for peace. Rather than believing that angels will protect the grass, the daisies and all the rich diversity of the natural world we need to take this urgent responsibility on our own shoulders.
So this Michaelmas let us both delight in the idea of angels, keeping our eyes open for the shimmer of a celestial wing, and also do the work that angels are supposed to do – becoming agents of God’s purpose in our own right.