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Angels - A Reflection  

A few days ago I was leading the monthly Reflective Service which is held on the third Wednesday of each month at lunchtime and in the evening. My theme then was "Angels", and as I was preparing my material for this service I suddenly began to look around our beautiful sanctuary here in St Cuthbert's and to realise how many wonderful angels we have right in our midst. I wonder how many of you who come into the church on a regular basis notice these amazing creatures. I thought therefore that for the first part of my pastoral letter this month I would take you on a whistlestop tour to meet some of our angels.  

lectern angel

pulpit angel

Let us begin at the pulpit, as I introduce you to the lovely marble angel who adorns the front, carrying a banner which reads "The everlasting gospel". If we then move over to the lectern we meet one of my favourite angels - an angel who has been hiding its light under a bushel for some time. But on Wednesday evening it stood out in all its glory because we had a spotlight illuminating its beautiful face and its delicate little feet. I urge you to go closer the next time you are in church and marvel at the beauty of this angel which I for one have ignored up until now.  

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While you are at the lectern look up at the ceiling at the back of the apse above our wonderful frieze and you will see on both sides of Christ on the throne three delicious angels who look almost pre-Raphaelite. If angels really look like that I hope I go to Heaven!  

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Finally, I want you to meet some angels that I have held onto almost every Sunday since I have been at St. Cuthbert's! These are the four little angels who adorn the prayer desks at the back of the apse - one on each side of either prayer desk. If angels can be called cute then these are, as they kneel so solemnly in prayer! And each Sunday morning when I am singing the final hymn I generally rest my hand gently on the head of one of these little angels, and yet until this week I have never really looked at them. Someone said to me on Wednesday evening that she loves the thought that after everyone else has left the church and the doors are closed and the place is in darkness these tiny angels are still at their devotions. 

It is quite appropriate that we have so many beautiful angels in this church of St. Cuthbert because Cuthbert himself was well acquainted with angels during his life. Indeed he entered the religious life after having a vision of angels as he was tending sheep on the Lammermuir Hills as a boy. (Angels and shepherds seem to go together!). Cuthbert's vision was of a soul being carried up to heaven by a flock of angels (if that is the collective noun for a group of angels!).  

At the time he did not know what this meant but later discovered that Aidan, the great Irish missionary who had founded the monastery on Lindisfarne, had just died. Cuthbert took this as a sign that he should follow in Aidan's footsteps which, as we know, is exactly what he did. Cuthbert was not unusual in his belief in angels because they were part of the very fabric of life to Celtic Christianity. It has been said of Cuthbert that he would wander the highways and byways of Northumberland meeting angels along the way where other people saw only ordinary peasant folk. 

There is a lovely story of an old crofting woman somewhere in the Highlands of Scotland in the late 19th century. She was having a conversation with a man called Alexander Carmichael who was responsible for an incomparable collection of Gaelic hymns, songs, and poems. Carmichael travelled all over the Highlands and Islands writing down this material that had only ever been spoken or sung before and which would have been lost to posterity if it had not been for his dedication. During his conversation with the old woman the talk turned to angels and after a while Carmichael said to her "And where do you think the angels are?" Looking him in the eye she replied "Oh, about a foot above your head!" 

"But," you may say, "this is all very well, but what place do angels have in our post-modern, rational world?" I would reply "As important a place as they had in the Old and New Testaments." St. Paul, himself, in his letter to the Hebrews wrote "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels unawares".  

Our Celtic forbears had no doubts about the existence of angels. So who are we to disbelieve? Faith is a mystery - belief in angels is part of that mystery. So as you wander the highways and byways of life who knows how many angels you may have encountered on your travels without knowing it! Who knows how many angels may be hovering a foot above your head right now guarding and protecting you!  

Rev Fiona Hutchison, October 2004


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