We were driving the 160-mile trip from the airport to the remote mountain valley which was home at the time. It was my friend’s first trip to these parts. His whole previous life had been in the urban haunts of California and, before that, the East Coast, all of it teeming with lights, traffic, crowds of people surrounding him, stores, malls, offices, factories, the human hustle and bustle.
As we drove through the dark night, untouched by lights other than our headlights or human presence other than our own, he burst out: “There’s nothing here.”
It’s all in the perception. Above us, the starry vault shone with a clarity absolutely blocked to him in his native urban jungle, the human need for surface lights impeding the heavenly glow. But he didn’t look up. And, as we drove by, countless creatures observed our passing without themselves being seen by us.
It brought home to me that humans must surely be the most oblivious species on earth. The multiple messages all around us, often picked up easily by lots of other species, are routinely missed or even denied by most people. They live self-absorbed in a self-created bubble which admits only other humans, a handful of carefully adapted pets and a plethora of artificial products to ease their existence. In their traditional view, the rest of creation exists to be conquered, to serve them. It is to be slaughtered and eaten, drilled and extracted, plowed and chemically treated.
Hello? Why have so many not gotten the memo? A frustrated Jesus notes the very alarming reason: “The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (John 8:47). The process of opening our ears requires endless patience from Jesus. The Gospels are often the tale of clueless disciples who do not get it. For every ear that finally hears, many others fall away (as in John 6) or are firmly shut to begin with. It begins in Genesis, with the story of those who would rather follow their own illusions than belong to God and hear his plan. It continues today with the many whose interest in God’s creation is limited to what it can do for them.
But we are hardly alone in that creation. Material creation has been placed by God all around us. The first part of his memo is that we are to care for that creation and all its creatures, and are to neither ignore nor wreck it. Beyond that, spiritual creation has also been placed all around us, as celebrated Sept. 29 with the Day of St. Michael and All Angels.
People frequently don’t know what to do with that. Some populate a spiritual existence around us with angels flitting here and there in a self-contained universe. But Scripture is pretty clear. “Angel” means “messenger” in Greek, and these beings are entrusted to bear God’s messages. The first is that of praise, and we are told multiple times how they ceaselessly and effectively praise God. That is the best message of all, when joined with the “ev-angel,” the “good message,” or “good news” announced by the Gospels (with the help of the angels). So it is in our Eucharistic world that we join with them, (“with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven”) following them in our own praise of God’s glorious grace.
Beyond that, they are used by God to deliver the necessary messages to us, to those who have ears to hear. As we share earth with the creatures we are charged to care for, the world we are to steward, so we also share cosmic space with God’s spiritual creations, who we are expected to hear because they have an important and continuing message for us.
Nothing here? On the contrary, we share our spot in the universe with the rest of creation. Ego might prefer that we are the center and reason for it all, as Adam and Eve first proposed. We are not. We belong to God, not ourselves or even each other. We are here to serve, in our place in the order of things. So also the angels, who are in fact greater than we (see Ps. 8:5), but serve by bringing us the good news of God’s grace.
In baptism, we belong to God. As his beings, may we be enabled to hear him clearly, through the voices of the angels, the messages of his earthly creation, and most especially through the Good News of the Word. God’s grace has arrived among us, he is here. The whole creation rejoices in his manifold gifts of love. With St. Francis, may we too join in creation’s chorus. Thank you, hosts of angels, for a good job delivering the memo .