Thou angel of God who hast charge
From the dear Father of mercifulness,
The shepherding kind of the fold of the saints
To make round about me this night;
Drive from me every temptation and danger,
Surround me on the sea of unrighteousness,
And in the narrows, crooks, and straits,
Keep thou my coracle, keep it always.
Be thou a bright flame before me,
Be thou a guiding star above me,
Be thou a smooth path below me,
And be a kindly shepherd behind me,
To-day, to-night, and for ever.
I am tired and I a stranger,
Lead thou me to the land of angels;
For me it is time to go home
To the court of Christ, to the peace of heaven.
- Oral tradition ancient prayer - Carmina Gadelica
As I prepared to light the angel’s candle this last Sunday of Advent, I opened my copy of the Carmina Gadelica, which is a wonderful collection of ancient prayers and incantations gathered in the Scottish Highlands, by Alexander Carmichael in the 19th century. I also began researching what the mystics had to say about angels, and found that the Rhineland mystics are a fun study. Then I began to read Thomas Aquinas’ writings on angels and ended up traveling down a fantastic youtube rabbit hole with Rupert Sheldrake and Matthew Fox, watching the interviews they did for their book The Physics of Angels.
Whenever I hear fully grown people, astute in their fields, speaking with such candor on a topic that is somewhat “out there”, I feel better about the places I go in my hopes and imagination. (I blame it on Madeleine L'Engle, George MacDonalad, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien.)
Seeing angels as “intelligences that help to steer evolution”? Comparing Thomas Aquinas’ language about angels to today’s quantum mechanics? They can seriously sit there and talk about this stuff and see it as something more than worth talking about. Plus, they have a pretty major historical grasp on the roots of materialism, and how quickly the heretic can become one who doesn’t quite buy the whole of the heresy. And they are still willing to play fools, in such a way that draws me in to why they would place their attention there.
As I got further into it, I recognized the fact that all of these biblical texts about angels are “out there” too. But somehow… at least within the walls of the tradition, they’re taken as commonplace, with the kind of apathy found in Sunday school rooms where children craft all their angels with white paper plates and yellow yarn. Somewhere along the line, someone squeezed the juice out of the text years ago, and all that sticky, juiciness is laying there dried up at the bottom of a waste basket in a church basement.
So then I did this deep dive to discover, to really observe, how many times angels show up in connection to Jesus - and of course, I recognized each instance - but I'd never really actually noticed before.
It is an angel who visits Mary to tell her about baby Jesus.
It is an angel who appears to Joseph, her betrothed, in a dream.
The angels and the heavenly hosts unleash their celebration of conscious incarnation at the birth of Jesus. And the shepherds get it.
An angel appears in a dream to warn the Holy Family to seek refuge in Egypt.
After the intensity of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, angels come to minister to him.
In the garden of Gethsemane, an angel appears to strengthen Jesus.
Then, in the Matthew account, Jesus says “do you not think that I cannot now appeal to My Father, and He will at once send me more than 12 legions of angels?”
An angel rolls back the stone from the tomb.
An angel appears to Mary Magdalene, and then Jesus appears to her, making her the first apostle.
And then there are angels present at the ascension of Jesus.
For me, maybe it’s because that Sunday School crafting apathy set in long ago. Or maybe it is because in many of the protestant spaces in my past, to suggest we commune with angels or consider their presence, was seen as somehow a threat to God. (The same goes for asking the Saints to pray for us.)
But all that to say... I am grateful to be lighting the Angel’s Candle with a freshly arrived “second naïveté” about angels.
For me, as a songwriter, what shows up in the end, is a result of research, of opening, and of writing and singing from a place that has "gone the distance", so to speak. Even if the result is incredibly simple, it is simple often because I got complicated along the way.
For instance, when I listened to Rupert Sheldrake and Matthew Fox speak about Aquinas asking how fast an angel travels, and then comparing it to asking the same question about light in quantum mechanics, I also began to see what Aquinas was getting at when he said angels were in a timeless realm.
So the lyric "her heart beat in time with my wings" implies, at the quantum level, that Mary's longing to bear forth the Divine was a timeless longing, beating in time with the angel's wings… or we could say, her heart beat in time with the "intelligences guiding evolution".
Her heart beat in time with my wings
Her heart beat in time with my wings
Hail Mary, full of Grace,
The Lord is with you.
May our angels protect us, and guide us, as we enter into the days of Christmas. I welcome their presence in my life, and in my work, and I welcome them to keep watch over my home, and to touch the soil that I long to bring to fuller life. Amen.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on an aspiring permaculture farm on the Canadian prairies.