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SERMON ARCHIVE

 

 

A Rage of Angels

Angels seem to be all the rage these days. From a previous near-invisibility, they seem to be everywhere you look. What? Price, are you mad? Are you seeing things? Yes, I am. Don't worry, I'm not seeing any real angels, mind you, no glowing entities with wings. I'm just seeing them on calendars and T-shirts and coffee mugs and, of course, on network TV schlockumentaries where every paranormal fad has its day. Like the TV evangelists, the network programmers allow the Nielsen ratings to govern their theology. If enough people will watch, then it must be true.

So one can hardly escape from angels, at least at the moment. They are having, as we poor mortals do, their fifteen minutes of fame. In fact, I'd best get on with this sermon fast, lest it become outdated by the time I finish!

It seems to me you can divide the current interest in angels into two categories. On the one hand, angels have become a kind of variation on the theme of UFO contactees. People are writing books about their "close encounters" of the angelic kind. It's more of the general New Age fixation on supposedly higher beings who can give us a helping hand.

(To be honest, before tarring angels with the brush of Shirley MacLaine and Ramtha, I ought to tell you that Schleiermacher and other Liberal theologians also compared angels to beings from other planets. Maybe it's not so crazy an idea.)

This kind of thing has happened in many cultures before. It is a sign of a religious crisis. As Gabriel Vahanian would say, the fad belief in angels is just the contrary of what it might at first seem. It might seem a sign of religious renewal, but instead, like belief in Occultism, it is a sign of the Death of God. It is an exotic last gasp of religion in a jaded society. A retreat into superstition.

And it's happened before. In ancient Judaism, people lost sight of the One God and turned to angel worship. In West Africa and in pre-Islamic Arabia people began to believe that a great High God had retreated and left us to deal with a celestial bureaucracy.

On the other hand, the rage of angels may be no more than the cat fad: you know, all the Kliban posters and mugs? Angels have been reduced to mascots, pets, essentially no more than Valentine cherubs. So some people take them way too seriously, others not seriously enough.

Eh? How's that? Not seriously enough? Am I telling you I believe in angels? No, not really. But I believe there is an important truth here, and one perhaps neglected in the current time when angels are all the rage. To tell you what this is, I need to go back and fill in some of the background of the angel myth.

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It began in ancient Persia, as part of the Zoroastrian religion. There two ancient myths had come to be fused together in an interesting way. The first of these was the idea of divine warrior maidens, like the German Valkyries, who would fly about the battlefields collecting the souls of the slain and take them into the presence of God.

The other was the idea of spirit-doubles, a spiritual counterpart of you who would leave heaven at an appointed time to be born on earth in a physical body. We have folklore about this, as if God had a waiting room in heaven and sent down babies by the stork.

Eventually the two concepts were somehow combined, and the result was what Zoroastrian scripture calls a "fravashi." It was a spirit counterpart of yourself who watched over and protected you until it was time for you to go, to return to God. We call it a guardian angel.

This idea passed on into the Bible along with a lot of other ideas and myths from Persia. In Daniel we read of guardian angels of whole nations, who serve as the patrons of those kingdoms and fight on their behalf in heaven when wars are taking place here on earth.

But in the Gospel of Matthew we also read of individuals and their personal angels. "Make sure that you do not cause one of these little ones to stumble, for their angels always behold the face of my Father in heaven."

Luke has the same idea in the Book of Acts, when Peter is on death row and is miraculously rescued. But then he makes his way to the house where his friends are praying for his release. And in one of the funniest moments of the Bible, he is knocking at the door. The maid sees him and is so flabbergasted that she leaves him waiting outside while she runs in to tell the others. And they don't believe her! Some faith! They figure it's too late. Peter must already be dead. Who's at the door, then? "It must be his angel."

Interesting! It tells us they thought your guardian angel must look just like you. It even implies that your guardian angel was your ghost! Your soul. And that is our clue.

According to the esoteric doctrines of suppressed Christian sects, your guardian angel was indeed your higher self! It was part of that doctrine that you have various physical and psychic layers, seven levels of you. The grossest was the physical body, while the most refined was the spirit. And the goal of salvation was to free the spirit from its incarceration in the flesh. This is why the Corinthian Gnostics scoffed at the doctrine of the resurrection of the flesh.

How would you disengage the spirit Self from the fleshly self? By meditation and study. And then at death the spirit could soar free and return to its primordial unity with the Divine Pleroma. It's all very much like Yoga.

There were special sacraments to help out. One was called the Bridal Chamber. It is mentioned in the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Thomas. In it one prepared oneself for a vision in which one beheld Christ as the bridegroom of the soul.

Another image for the same thing was that you would behold your own spiritual twin, your guardian angel, your higher self, and this, too, was Christ.

Here is a profound piece of spirituality: that if you are, as evangelists often say, to meet Christ, it will be meeting your true self for the first time. An old Zen saying puts it this way: "If you meet the Buddha on the road--kill him!" Because the only true Buddha there can be is the one hidden inside you, waiting to come out.

I think this is quite significant, because it gives an alternative to those unhealthy spiritualities that are always telling you to renounce yourself if you want to grow spiritually. Okay, if you do that, you may indeed wind up being more spiritual than you were. But who will you be? I guess not you anymore!

To be honest, that kind of spirituality does not attract me in the least. And don't think I haven't tried it. I have. You probably have, too. And that may have something to do with why some of you are here in the first place. You need, you deserve, a spiritual alternative to pious self-hatred.

When I have been the most "spiritual," the most pious, I have repressed my own personality, and I could never stand doing it for too long. The day would come when I had to be myself again. And this concept that your guardian angel, your Christ-counterpart, is actually the highest version of you, the best edition, with all the bugs worked out--I like that! It gives me hope!

Isn't this what Carl Jung said? (Jung was a great Gnostic, you know.) He spoke of a process of personal and moral growth in which you first grow to be an Ego. You learn what your interests are, your abilities, and you rejoice in them. You stake out your turf and defend it. And that is very necessary.

But you need to grow beyond it, to the next stage. You see how much you need to do that when you see someone who seems to be an arrested adolescent. They are too full of themselves and don't think anyone's advice is worth a listen. They are not even very interested in others except to further their own ends. This person has an Ego all right, but they need something else. They need to become a capital-S Self. Jung said when you evolve into a Self, you broaden out your interests, your sympathies, your concerns, to include others. More and more others, till at the outward extreme, you do what Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer did: you identify others' interests as your own. In short: you actually come to love your neighbor as you love yourself--because you have come to realize that your neighbor is included in your selfhood! You are no one in isolation. And now you realize it. You can't simply go on pretending that the world is fine as long as your own thin slice of it tastes good.

If you commended any of these heroic souls for sacrificing their own interests in favor of others, I dare say they wouldn't know what you meant. Sacrifice? What sacrifice? The interests and problems of the whole world simply had become their own interests and problems. Few people go the whole way, but that is the way you are going as the tight bud of the Ego gradually blossoms into a full and beautiful Self.

You need to establish an Ego, but then you need to use it as a launching pad to send a Self soaring aloft. The Ego is a chosen point that will become a center of a circle, but then you draw the circumference, and that circle expands to include more and more--eventually everything in its path.

The best help you can get is to help yourself, to get to the point where you don't need the help anymore. And that's what bothers me about the current rage of angels. Angels are pictured as your own personal Michael Landon. But they are considerably more personal than that. They are your own personal you! They are the prospect you must grow to meet and can meet. And as you do it, when you do it, the angel you meet will not be a stranger from beyond. It will be a familiar face. It will be your own face.

Robert M. Price

 

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