Random Saturday afternoon thoughts about the existence of angels

When William Blake was a little boy, he saw an angel in a tree. On his deathbed, he sang songs with all the angels that were surrounding him.

Like most people, I don’t have angel-vision anywhere near what Blake enjoyed. I’m the kind of person who occasionally sees someone or something out of the corner of my eye, and then I turn and whatever it was is gone. If it was ever there at all.

This most vividly happened a few years back when I visited a holy well near Clonmel in Ireland. I saw a woman dressed in white standing by my car. But then I looked again and no one was there. I was parked in an open space along an empty street. Was it just my imagination, playing tricks with me? Or did some sort of incorporeal being momentarily break through my psychic defenses?

I’m rather skeptical by nature and I tend to be suspicious of people who get all sorts of psychic messages or marching orders from God (or the gods, or the angels, or Mary, or whomever). I translate our solid legal principle “innocent until proven guilty” into a scientific way of approaching preternatural phenomena: I assume such things have a perfectly reasonable and down-to-earth explanation. So I guess I’m saying I consider nature to be innocent of rogue metaphysics (unless proven guilty).

But I’m not an atheist. I believe in God. I believe that it’s simply arrogant to assume that evolution pretty much topped out with humans and whales. But the question, of course, is where will the dance of evolution take us, from here? Will we transcend our bodies, like the Organian race on Star Trek? Which is another way of wondering: are angels just the next rung up on the evolutionary ladder? In the absence of any kind of evidence, this can only be a matter for speculation. But as Ken Wilber points out, validity is measured in matters of consciousness not by how representationally true something can be shown to be (because we simply can’t measure any consciousness, not even our own). Instead, validity is found in truthfulness.

Angels, spirit beings, heavenly messengers: they appear in cultures the world over. Sure, there are plenty of cranks and attention-seekers who tell stories of their angelic encounters. But there are also seem to be plenty of humble, ordinary people, who have keen minds and are willing to question themselves, who nevertheless have experiences that they interpret as angelic in nature.

So maybe the existence of angels is only a matter of speculation. But I think it’s worth the speculating. And just perhaps, the more open we are to doing the speculating, the more likely we will get to walk with the likes of William Blake: and sing the celestial song.

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Sister Kate Brennan

    Dear Carl,

    I have not have visions of angels but I think some people do, especially my grandfather. A week before his death he thought he heard someone calling him. Since I was the only one with him at the time he thought it was I. When I said I had not called him his answer was that it was probably my grandmother who had died some years previously. Before she died he thought he saw someone bending over her as a guardian anfel would. i don;t think we can ever underestimate the power of spiritual beings.

    I really enjoy your website.

    Sister Kate