Advent, the church calendar name for the four Sundays preceding Christmas, is here again! Advent means “arrival,” or “to come to.” Advent means special candles. Stories. And angels.
Are angels still at work in our world?
Human musings about their sex, wingspans, and celestial footwear (for dancing atop the pearled heads of pins) persist to this day.
Many of us, or people we know, have a guardian angel theory. Or story.
(Our daughter believed that Cindy, her personal angel, lived on the roof and kept robbers away.)
In Advent (if we do the math) we picture the angel visiting Mary in early spring. Gabriel may have beamed down among scarlet anemones, the widespread windflower known today as kalanit, or “little bride”—a fitting backdrop for a maiden, newly betrothed.
If current weather patterns reflect those of ancient Israel, it would have been mostly sunny with moderate temperatures: sweater weather. No wonder artists rendered Mary wrapped in blue silk damask, or wool.
Not to mention probable goose bumps, raised by her supernatural encounter. Gabriel’s “Fear not” greeting was probably tough to take at face value.
Here, in a poem by Luci Shaw, is one of my favorite meditations on Gabriel bringing the gift of God’s message to Mary.*
As if until that moment
had happened since Creation
As if outside the world were empty
so that she and he were all
there was—he mover, she moved upon
As if her submission were the most
dynamic of all works; as if
no one had ever said Yes like that
As if one day the sun had no place
in all the universe to pour its gold
but her small room
Afterward, imagine the hush, an amber afterglow.
Have you ever said Yes like that?
Dared to add, Be it unto me according to your word?
David Steindl-Rast suggests that angels appear today “whenever a life-giving message touches a human heart.”**
A life-giving message can come from nature, or a book.
Even you. Or me.
Sometimes a mentor or stranger speaks to us, and their words carry a divine charge that we sense in our bones. Our skin. Our souls. We see their mouths moving and know God is speaking through them, to us.
It’s a personal advent of things to come.
Perhaps the message encompasses an image or idea that seizes our attention, then gradually takes shape as a new course of action.
Years ago, I took an all-day workshop with author Susan Vreeland. Later, we conversed privately. She spoke five words to me that still resonate, as if a bell, struck in that moment, keeps sounding a call.
“Be a spokesman for peace.”
The advent of those five words was a summons to stillness as well as action. It arrived as a gift. A lower case, small-scale visitation.
Do you hold sacred, somewhere within, the gift of words once spoken over you?
*Luci Shaw, “Virgin,” Accompanied by Angels (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006, p 16)
**David Steindl-Rast, Music of Silence (Ulysses Press, Berkeley, CA, 1998, p xxi)