Friday, March 14, 2014

What Manner of Angel was She?

The thing about the college town community where I live, is that there is a lot of like-mindedness.  Like-mindedness can manifest in many ways.  At it’s best, it affords great support and reliability. Living here, in such a town, I think often of the words of Tevye, from Fiddler on the Roof, who when explaining the temperament of his own hometown said:

“How do we keep our balance?  That, I can tell you in one word, TRADITION! 

…and yet, also in the circle of our little village, we’ve always had our special types…Dai, Dai, Dai, Dai, Dai, DAIEE, Dai Dai Dai Dai, Dai!”

I suppose in my traditional mountain village, I would be esteemed one of those special types.  I don’t mind.  Since I was very young, I was always a bit fringy around the edges, always asking questions slightly outside the box or fully acceptable among many in the circle of my culture.

In writing down my thoughts here, I actually would like to hold the space for a very sacred conversation.  It is a unique one that is specific to me and the questioning nature of my soul as my thoughts branch slightly beyond the doctrinal demagogy of my village culture.  In addition, there is something very healing for me in the therapeutic nature of penning my thoughts here.

The local University, in my college town, has a beautiful Museum of Art, and currently on display there is an exhibit called Sacred Gifts.  It is a beautiful exchange between many churches and a variety of like-minded traditions, each having collaborated in community around artwork of Jesus Christ.

The paintings have all come from a variety of churches in Europe (many for the one and only time they will ever leave their home), where they were deteriorating and in need of repair.  The university offered to pay for state of the art restoration expertise, in exchange for the sharing of each sacred piece on loan for several months.  Eventually each beautiful piece will be returned fully renewed to their respective congregation; such a generous exchange on both sides.

I went to this exhibit with my son around the holidays.   He, like most teenagers, has been stewing within the traditions and the pressure that comes naturally from teachers, parents and neighbors, stewing in what is expected and hoped for him by his world community, as he faces the horizon of adulthood in his own life.  It’s intense, as anyone on the edge of 17 can attest.  

I had hoped he would want to come to the exhibit with me, but for him it was an evening away from his natural pursuits.  I wished so deeply, as I walked through, that we could share in the spirit of these deeply moving works of art, that it could ease the difficulty of teenage stresses in some way.  As a mother, I am discovering that this time in a son’s life can often leave a her feeling a state of perpetual helplessness.

As I entered the exhibit, the first painting caught me, body and soul.  It is called:  “Agony in the Garden” by Frans Schwartz. 
Having recently come through chemotherapy, followed by months of additional treatment for invasive breast cancer, I knew this place on the canvas before me. As I looked upon the artist's rendering of the face of Christ, I recognized this expression of unquenchable agony in His eyes.  I had also felt the presence of this very Angel, depicted enveloping Christ.  I KNEW HER, like the back of my own hand I had felt her angelic comfort as a personal reality.  I knew this reality from both from a literal angelic presence that had attended me at times during treatments, as well as the physical presence of angelic sisters, brothers, neighbors and friends, who attended to me both in person and in prayer, when all I could do was suffer the moment.  

At the end of the exhibit, I wrote these feelings on a piece of paper, provided by the Museum, to be sent as a thank-you to the congregation of the church who loaned this painting for restoration and display.

Convexly, in 2010, I had also shared in the experience of helping a friend through his own gethsemane, over the last two weeks of his life.  In the hours I spent in care of him, I could feel Her, this Angel, working through me.   In his most intense moments, I held his hand and head, trying to send every thought, every memory, every kindness and strength he had ever shown to so many of the people he had helped through his own life.  It just felt natural to reflect that love back through his body, at such a time.

One moment, in particular, I breathed deeply, trying to channel the love of literally hundreds of people through my hands into his body; people who wanted to be there helping him as well.  

I did my best to allow all their gratitude and love for his goodness to flow through my hands, into him.  Over those two very intense weeks, I stood in a unique kind of stewardship with one man, on behalf of many.  During this time, without a word, I would hold his hands, head or heart and show him, through my palms, the strongest moments of his own life, in hopes he would hang on with us for a while longer.

So I knew Her firsthand, I had been this Angel for someone else and I had also received Her, comforting me.

Over several months, this painting held steady in my mind.  I went back to the exhibit alone, just to look again.  I heard a question seasoning in my heart, as my eyes mused again across this image:  

“In Gethsemane with Christ, what manner of Angel would this be?  She would have to be something special, (not just any everyday angel), to be there with Christ in His suffering for you and me.  In breaking the bonds of time and space, which was also, paradoxically, the most mortal of His moments, asking God the Father that this cup may pass Him over, it would take quite a special type to be, (in my spiritually-traditional thinking), to be authorized to be there and called to witness that moment along side Him...”

Who was this Angel?  Could it possibly be ME?  Wow, I thought, where did that come from?

How could I relate to Her so.  How could my mortal experience be so aligned, in so many ways, with the image before me.  I stood, in contemplation, at the very canvas that supported the artist's brush, over a hundred years before.  

Standing there, I recalled a poem I had written, ten years earlier.  This poem came from one of my personal meditations, written for Christmas one year.  I called it “Turning East”.  The poem was written in relation to all of our days as Angels, prior to moving through this mortal coil.  I wrote of angelic hosts and what our perspective of Christ may be within the larger circles of Eternity.  I recalled it, as I contemplated such an unorthodox question that had leapt unfiltered from my heart into my mind:

From the East you’ve shown
Star of new light touched earth

Little Prince of Peace
Tiny Councilor

We kissed your feet before you came
And sang as Heaven’s Host

‘Tis our feet now that walk Your earth,
our song from winged eye

gaze back from whence you came 
at first...
Eastern Skies…

Turning East


As the weeks passed, I got very busy with a move into my new home, but I woke one morning to another recognition related to this picture.  As my eyes opened, barely awake, laying in my bed, I noticed a blank section of wall in my new bedroom.  It felt vacant, like something belonged on it.  I knew in a Kensho (zen meditation-sudden insight), that a small reproduction of this painting belonged right there.  I drove back to the Museum of Art that afternoon, for the third time, and purchased a 10x14 on canvas from the museum gift shop of “Agony in the Garden”.

I took it to my local framing shop and snapped a picture to review the frame I had picked out with the image itself.  I wanted to make sure that I had chosen the right frame, (in order to both honor the energy of the artwork and conform with the colors of my room).

“Who was she?” I asked myself again, as I drove home.

Within another few days I sequestered myself in sanctuary, in concern for my son and all of the life-changing circumstances he faces at such a pivotal time in his life.  As I sat in meditative silence, I reflected tenderly on my inability to cozy him up onto my lap, as I had been able to do, when he was small.  I am not able to be who I have always been for him, at least in the same ways that have come so naturally to me in the past.  It felt so dear to me, that a son growing into manhood, I am learning, is as great a sacrifice on a mother’s heart, as his birth was on her body.

So with this open and tender heart, I sat inside sacred walls, where I had brought with me the desire to ease the intensity of my son's challenges and also my question about this Angel, my peculiar query about the image on canvas I had left at the framers.

“Was this me?”  

The phrase of my question was really not as verbose as it sounds.  

It was the only language my feeble mind could muster at the time to articulate what I really meant:  “WHY do I resonate with this moment so sincerely, why does the angelic soul look so familiar to me and why do I share in both sides of the depiction of this beautiful piece so clearly and intimately in every cell of my being…

What manner of Angel was She?

So in a moment of deep prayer I asked the only feeble phrasing I could of God:  “Was this me, God?  Was this me?  The phase was a supplication, as a child would ask a pure-hearted question of a parent, without the maturity to understand the ramifications of the answer at the moment of it's asking.  

Yet as I asked, I felt no rebuke for questioning, whatsoever.

The answer did come, so strong and at the same time so very gently.

I felt a Godliness reverberating through me, like the most penetrating a whisper of this nature could possibly be:

“You are one of Her channels” was the reply to my question.

Several times…

“You are a channel of the Peace She brings.”

Several more times...

As this Wisdom reverberated in me, my simply heart-felt asking knew and understood her identity completely:  

There would be only ONE Presence with the stewardship to attend to the Savior, as He At-ONE-ed with me in gethsemane.  This was a simply an Angel Mother, a Mother like me, seeking to comfort and strengthen her Son, in His greatest hour of need.  The Divine Mother, the Mother of His Soul, in His soul’s darkest moment.  She alone, had the right to be there, as the Father retreated to the farthest corner of Heaven available. She, a Mother, attending to her Son.

I felt like Her and She felt like me.  I asked the question, because I felt that very desire, in the moment I was standing in front of this painting that evening for my own boy.  I saw Her there in that way, because I had the same desire to do as She was doing; to strengthen my son, at a time of deep challenge, deep personal transformation into manhood; as she stood there, with Her Son, as He Atoned for mankind.

I knew Her, because all mothers know Her in each other and within ourselves.  She was there, and so was I, giving and receiving.  She knows the space between both sides, Her stewardship is the void, She, the Eternal Yin.  She holds me dear as I hold my own son in my heart and will do for all the days of his manhood, just as I did in my lap all the days of his boyhood.

So as I sat in deep spiritual meditation I thought of many a scripture.  I opened a white Bible on the table next to me and reviewed many passages that have been tiny comforts to me in the past, when looking for personal representation amidst the traditional thinking of my village.   Each passage (and a new one, discovered on that day) have been a quiet-hidden strength to my inner-Divine-Feminine-daughter soul of both a Father and Mother in Heaven.  

Greater healing in that moment took place for the mother’s heart within me; a greater wholeness telling me “I’ve a Mother there”, felt both deeply grounding and enlivening simultaneously. A sacred moment, in which each tiny scriptural passage has served as a witness to strengthen me, at times when I too have been in need of both redemption and comfort:

“And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time…”

—Revelation 12: 14

"Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."

—Proverbs 3:17

“And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.  And there appeared an Angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.”

—Luke 22:41-43

“As one whom His mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

Isaiah 66:13

Sacred gifts, in-deed...such Sacred Gifts