Guardian Angels in Our Secular Age

Guardian Angels in Our Secular Age October 16, 2022

Ceiling in Monheim Town Hall: Jacob dreaming of the ladder to heaven. The sun contains the words וְהִנֵּה יְהוָה נִצָּב עָלָיו וַיֹּאמַר (And, behold, the LORD stood beside him, and said) The ray coming from heaven reads וְהִנֵּה אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּיךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-תֵּלֵךְ (And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee whithersoever thou goest) Jacob exclaims מַה-נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה (How full of awe is this place!). All taken from Genesis 28:13-17. [September 21, 2008. Author: Calistemon; EA210269. Creative Commons.]
Our secular age may lead us to think guardian angels belong to an outdated, medieval outlook on life. But I beg to differ. I know guardian angels who disguise themselves as medical staff at my son’s care facility. One of them is a nurse, whom Christopher’s mother calls his “Second Mom.” That’s high praise coming from my wife. My daughter who is studying to be a nurse texted me in response to “Second Mom’s” recent update on Christopher: “She’s absolutely incredible. I’m convinced she’s his guardian angel.”

I have been tempted at times to slam the door shut on heaven in my heart and wonder where God is in everything Christopher and we are enduring. There is so much harm that has come to him and all of us, far beyond his TBI. But I cannot deny God’s presence and care through his angelic messengers.

God’s guardian angels keep descending and ascending on Christopher’s room. To me, his room is “Bethel.” Here I am alluding to the biblical story of God appearing to Jacob in a dream in the wilderness when he fled from Esau. Jacob called the place where he had a vision of angels descending and ascending there “Bethel,” the house of God. Sometimes I look back on my experiences in Christopher’s room and resonate with Jacob upon recounting his vision at Bethel captured in the caption to the photo above: “How full of awe is this place.” God has a way of showing up and making a heaven out of hellish circumstances. I have witnessed it with my own eyes.

“Second Mom” is not the only guardian angel who appears to Christopher and me at Bethel. There are others there at the facility, including RTs and CNAs. Second Mom and a few CNAs are coaching Christopher to cough as well as swallow. They are very conscious of the need to cultivate Christopher’s efforts in conscious control.

Christopher’s guardian angels encourage him and approach him with hope, not despair. Their attitudes and affirmation of him make a great difference. One CNA told me last week Christopher will sometimes hit his call button simply so they will descend upon him in his room to check up on him. He enjoys their presence.

I can even tell that Christopher enjoys conversations I have with caregivers on various topics of interest. It is quite striking to watch Christopher’s eyes in the presence of his caregivers. He often looks at me with dreary attentiveness when we are one on one. There I am at Christopher’s bedside droning on like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Just ask my university and seminary students. They can vouch for me (You can even check out Charlie Brown’s teacher’s impersonation of me here). All that changes, even dramatically, when his caregivers enter the room and strike up a conversation with me.

Christopher will strain his eyes in a focused manner and watch as the staff and I converse. It might be a conversation about a caregiver’s uncle selling recently dismantled barn wood from his cattle ranch for a big profit to city people restoring it for use in their living room.

It could be a caregiver talking about how people in his town would bring him orphaned animals to raise when he was a child, including a bobcat, racoons, wild pigs, and birds. His depiction was so vivid, it was almost as if they were right there by Christopher’s bedside.

It may be a caregiver’s update on his training regimen at the gym, or a historical analysis of Generals Grant and Lee during the Civil War. I have also talked with one of them about Churchill and Hitler. Christopher and I sometimes listen to the audio book recording of Darkest Hour: How Churchill Brought England Back from the Brink. Christopher’s caregivers, including all those who support my son through prayer and various tangible ways, are bringing him back from the brink.

Staff are excited to update me on anything they observe that suggests conscious control. The other night, an RT who has worked with Christopher since early 2021, was delighted to inform me that my son moved his head from the right side that he favors to the left when the RT informed him: “Christopher, I need to clean you up here on your right side.”

Recently, word spread from staff to staff and then to me that Christopher lifted both arms above and behind his head as if to stretch while yawning. To them, that gesture was a victory cheer of progress. It reminded me of an athlete lifting their arms up high after winning a fight or race.

I recently asked Second Mom if she could gain a sense of Christopher’s outlook and attitude. She said, “He wants to live.” She knows when someone wants to die. They give up, she told me. Not Christopher. “He is fighting to live.”

Second Mom has also informed me at various times that Christopher’s personality is developing and that he consciously responds to staff in different ways. Sometimes he responds with a sly grin or a big smile to a humorous situation. At other times, he appears frustrated and upset about his condition, or something they are trying to do for him. At other times, he appears to roll his eyes and tries to ignore them. I know that look. I’ve seen it many times over the years.

My pain and suffering during our family’s arduous journey with Christopher on life support can lead me to major doubts in faith and even cynicism. But I can’t ignore the fact that Christopher has guardian angels descending and ascending and watching over him in this secular age.

To read all the various posts on our journey with TBI dating back to early 2021, please refer here. Thank you for your care and prayers!

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University and Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and Author and Editor of numerous works, including The Word of Christ and the World of Culture: Sacred and Secular through the Theology of Karl Barth (Eerdmans, 2003) and Setting the Spiritual Clock: Sacred Time Breaking Through the Secular Eclipse (Cascade, 2020). You can read more about the author here.

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