Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Poetry Tuesday: Early Morning Thoughts on Angels

At church on Sunday, we were talking about Jesus in the Temple and how surprised Joseph and Mary were to find him there.  Our pastor said, "Come on--there were angels at his birth.  What more do you need to know your child is special?"

There are many answers to that, of course.  We could argue that most parents of newborns feel that someone very, very, very special has been delivered to them.  I argued that the Gospel of Luke wasn't meant to be literal.  Maybe those angel choirs symbolized the feelings that many new parents have about their babies.  One woman theorized that it had probably been awhile since Jesus did anything special.

The season of Advent to Ash Wednesday always sets me to thinking about angels.  I am a good English major, and so I am well aware that more of our theories of angels come from Milton than from the Bible--or worse, from people's desperate desires, and the purveyors of sentimentality who prey on those people.

On the days when I believe in literal angels, I believe in them as a species separate from humans, living or dead.  When I die, I will not join the angel choirs.  Those choirs are for angels.  Humans do not die to become angels.  Angels were in existence long before humans.

I like the idea of angels moving amongst us, but not in the same way that most people do.  I don't believe in guardian angels who are there to step in and save me from myself.  But I do like the idea of angels who take an interest.  I do like the idea of angel messengers, although I suspect that most of us are deaf to the message.

Long ago, after the exhaustion that comes from explaining medieval ideas of angels and their place in the universe so that my Brit Lit students could understand Milton, I wrote the poem below.  For many decades, I've been writing poems that imagine Jesus moving through our modern world (see "Heaven on Earth", "New Kid," and "Strange Communions").  Occasionally I play with similar ideas with angels.

Here's my take on guardian angels.  I wrote it after hearing voices I couldn't identify outside my window in the wee, small hours of the morning.  Readers of Milton's "Paradise Lost" will notice some echoes.

Strategies Before Sunrise

The neighborhood angels congregate
outside my window. It’s very late,
3 a.m.—and they know their charges sleep
safely under the covers in darkened homes.

The angels make calls
on their interstellar cell phones to check
stock prices, check on family members. Sell,
buy, a career change, the futures
market, sleep, snack: their arguments
filter into my dreams.

These angels drink light beer
as they play checkers, strategizing
while waiting for sunrise. They’d prefer
a more challenging game, a better beer,
a darker blend, foamed with honey
and the yeasty blend which bespeaks bread.
But only rebel angels partake of chess, lagers
and all the forbidden conspiracies which tempt
the good citizens of the celestial spheres.

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