Today within the Christian liturgical calendar is Michaelmas. Or, and actually my preferred name, for the holy day, today, is the Feast of the Saints Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael. Or, maybe you would prefer the shorter while still more accurate version, today is the Feast of the Archangels.
It’s an important holy day in my personal calendar. And I try to recall it here, as well. What follows is another of those small reflections that I edit and cut and add to over the years.
This one touches on the liminal. The dream. The miraculous…
It makes a certain sense if we consider the very idea of an angel. Or, its vaguely Buddhist counterpart, the deva.
An archangel is a chief or principal angel. Angels are supernatural beings who often serve as mediators between the heavenly and earthly realms. It appears angels enter Judaism and later Christianity through the influence of Zoroastrianism. Where they got it, I don’t think we know with any certainty, but on first blush it does sort of look like they’re a positive adaptation of local deities by monotheistic religions. Way better than making the devils of one sort or another.
In Buddhism we have devas. They don’t precisely map angels. In the West there is a romancing of individual immortality that doesn’t exist in the same way within the Buddhadharma. But basically all the religions of any antiquity have their supernatural aspects.
And wherever they come from, the idea of spiritual beings that muck about between heaven and earth, whispering warnings, making announcements, and occasionally directly intervening, certainly has its appeals.
And, I suggest, some realities.
And so on this festival day I find myself thinking of what those mediators between heaven and earth might be for me.
I have found in my life that we live and breathe and take our being within the meeting of two worlds. The problem is the two are not actually two. Nor, are they precisely one. So, when we open our hearts to the realities we find our vision complicated, mysteries emerge, the divine erupts into the ordinary.
I’ve described this visit with an old friend on several different occasions. It’s an important moment for me.
She’s an Episcopal priest who is also a Zen teacher, attending a mass she celebrated. Among the small band of mostly elderly people I suddenly noticed “the whole universe was present. All the angels of Western faith and all the devas of the East were present and circling around that little altar that somehow became the navel of the cosmos.” It wasn’t precisely what happened. What happened was people gathered around someone praying with bread and wine. And. And those devas, those angels were there. Both. Both worlds. Many worlds.
Later I was attending a Zen Buddhist service where the doshi, the principal celebrant, was another friend, a Japanese Soto Zen priest. In Zen “services” the liturgical act of reciting sutras, offering incense, and bowing, is all done with the intent of thanking and offering any merit surrounding those acts to the healing of the world. I watched my friend take a stick of incense and hold it to his forehead. The act itself was grace itself. So, simple. So pure. Just that. Just this. And, in that moment I saw the same thing, for me the same thing, as my friend the Episcopal priest holding in her hands a bit of bread. Worlds were taken apart and then put back together again. But, new. Fresh.
There simply are moments when the two worlds come together. There simply are moments when the angels, the devas do indeed travel between heaven and earth.
And then every act, every step, every word becomes a mystery, a communion, a sacred dance.
The place between.
Within our silent hearts we can witness the whole mystery.
It is always waiting. All we have to do is enter the silence and witness.
A song of the archangels…