Our Better Angels

Our Better Angels December 14, 2020

The notion of “our better angels” was offered by Abraham Lincoln in 1861 in his first inaugural address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Suffering the weight of depression, Lincoln himself seemed anchored in his own better angel, which helped him withstand the chaotic wrath of those lesser angels set on ripping the country apart. And the “mystic chords” sentence may be the most penetrating and poetic offering by a president in history, as it suggests the unfailing tie between our best efforts of heart and the reservoir of good will that that those efforts call forth from the foundation of all humanity. When Lincoln speaks of our better angels, it seems less an ideal to reach for and more a place of solid footing where he has been renewed by the bareness of timeless truth.

For each of us, calling forth our better angels invokes a basic human nature we all are born with that we can return to again and again—a sort of endless reservoir of capacity, no matter how many times we fall down along the way or inadvertently hurt each other. This is the native realm that our loved ones point to in us when they say, “I see what you have done, but I still see who you are.”

We are always more than what is done to us and more than what we do to others. Though we are always responsible for the mark of our presence wherever we go. While we struggle to make our way through the enormous frailties that come with being human, I firmly believe in our better angels, as a touchstone of soul that releases the mysterious force we call love and its imminent flowering in the world as kindness and care.

We need to return to our basic, caring nature now more than ever. This effort begins by reaching inwardly for what is foundational in each of us and then reaching out to one another. Rather than aspire to some abstract ideal, we are being called to seek out our better angel as we would a sage we have waited years to talk to. So wait in your silence for your better angel to appear. Then, listen to it and befriend it. Drink from whatever stream it leads you to.


A Question to Walk With: How would you describe your better angel, your deeper self, your highest potential. In what part of your life are you closest to this central aspect of your soul?

This excerpt is from my book in progress, The Long Walk Through Time.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

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