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Hallo again to all.

Michaelmas -- the feast of St Michael and All Angels -- is always the 29th of September. Though the day itself is past, we are still within the 'octave of Michaelmas', the octave being the feast day plus the seven days succeeding it. That calendrical honour is given to feasts of high importance in the church, and the term is still found here and there, usually amongst Anglican parishes or cathedrals having strong liturgical traditions.

Twee Angel with Christmas TreeSo here we are, still within Mike and All's eight days. That got us thinking about angels. We confess that in recent years we have been close to angel malaise, the result of seeing far too many plaster angel Christmas ornaments, saccharine greeting cards with fat-cheeked cherubs, angelic scented candles, joss sticks, Christmas pageants, what have you. Angels turn up everywhere, embroidered on pillows with twee mottoes, appearing in television programmes, starring as cheesy animated clip art on websites. Enough!

We've reconsidered the benefit of being iconoclastic, and rather long for a prohibition on images of angels. It isn't that we think these Beings are of little value or importance. Rather, they are of such high importance and play such astounding roles in scripture that we believe they should be treated, visually and textually, with the respect, awe, and honour they deserve. The 'dumbing down' of angels has done us a disservice, by distancing us from understanding angels. As we once heard someone say, 'God isn't the bloke next door. And we'd jolly well better not forget it'.The Real Deal

Angels, when they have reason to appear to humans, are, if nothing else, creatures more inclined to frighten than to cuddle. 'Fear not' are nearly always the first words an angel speaks. Their incarnated presences are fierce and powerful. They are messengers, usually on errands for the Most High, and there seems to be very good reason that they are nearly always invisible.

From what we can gather from scripture and the church's tradition, angels are forces for the good, operating in a dimension other than ours, whose duties or concerns do not require that they be visible (or even sensed) by human beings -- except for the most extraordinary of occasions. Great art captures something of the energy and essence of the Matter of angels; the icons of St Michael, in the Orthodox tradition, come as close as we humans are allowed to some sort of understanding of their Presence.

Blessed Charles Williams wrote, in one of his novels, of the danger of judging the character of angels based on English pictures: 'All nightgowns and body and a kind of flacculent sweetness. As in cemeteries, with broken bits of marble . . . [Angels] are the principles of the tiger and the volcano and the flaming suns of space'. Now that seems more like it.

A blessed Michaelmas to you all. Fear not.

See you next week.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 3 October 2004

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