Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Angels among us

I'm preaching on Sunday the propers for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels - a/k/a Michaelmas. It's one of those big feast days in the Church - right up there with All Saints, Christmas, Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas) and Easter.

I'm working on my sermon and I find it is hard for many people to believe in angels. I mean, believing in the Triune God is hard enough, adding angels, archangels, seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, powers, virtues, and principalities ... well ... it scatters the imagination. It seems easy to just rationalize all this as some metaphoric way of explaining something that we can now likely explain with science.

Let's be clear ... I cannot see angels or archangels but I'm convinced some people can. Most of us move into concrete rational thinking around the age of 7 and we stay there for much of our lives. Before the age of 7, children see all kinds of things and when people get close to death they start to see things again. I have patients who report that their long dead relatives are in the room. Some report seeing people they do not know. Often the dying will describe these people as coming "through the door" - but when the dying person points to the door, they are pointing to the ceiling, or the corner of the room, or a solid wall. At least the wall looks solid to me.

I have a patient from England. She was pretty lucid when she came into hospice but occasionally talked to people who were in the room but invisible to me. Others called this hallucinations but I'm not so sure. About 4 weeks ago, I went into her room. She had her brow knit and was looking at the wall next to her bed. I asked her what was going on and she said she was "worried about that staircase."

"Which staircase?" I asked.

"The one right there behind you."

I turned around, looked and said, "Oh! That staircase. What's wrong with it?" (For the reader's information, I did not see a staircase. I saw a wall. But she saw a staircase and who was I to tell her there wasn't one there?).

"There's a man at the top of the staircase and he says I have to go up the stairs. I've had a stroke and I can't go up the stairs. He says Charlie has to go too and he's in a wheelchair - he can't go up the stairs either." (Charlie is her husband).

My patient was lucid enough to know she could not walk nor could her husband Charlie. But the man at the top of the stairs (the man I could not see) was telling her she and Charlie would have to go up the stairs.

"Well, did the man say you have to go right now?" I asked.

My patient looked up, past my shoulder, to where I guessed the top of the stairs might be and said, "Well ... no ... we don't have to go right now."

I took my patient's hand and said, "Then you don't need to worry about it. When it is time to go up the stairs, I promise that God will strengthen your legs and Charlie's too. You both will run up those stairs like the wind and you'll be light as a feather."

"You really think so?" she asked.

"I know so. God will never ask you to do anything that He won't give you the strength and ability to do."

She looked over my shoulder again and smiled. "Well ... that's a relief," she said.

St. Michael is the patron saint of dying persons and holy death. Was he at the top of the stairs? I can't say for sure but a messenger from God definitely was and one day, she'll climb those stairs.

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