How does change happen? I wrote a few weeks back about our complicated relationship with change. I described how, depending on what change we are experiencing, we may resist it or long for it. We may fight over it or deny it. We may even try to force it. And pretty often, we want other people to change.
Now I’m thinking about how change happens, and oddly, or at least oddly for me as a progressive Christian, I’m thinking about angels. Yes. Angels.
Mark Longhurst, in his article, “Retrieving Angels, Or Why Faith Must Be At Least As Strange as the Universe,” reminds me of the many stories in the Bible that involve angels — and how their job is often to send a message.
From angels Adam and Eve found out they had to take a road out of Eden, Abraham and Sarah learned they were having a baby, and Elijah got a nudge from an angel to get up from his exhausted sleep and eat something.
Sometimes angels call people out — even whole cities — for their injustice. And of course, sometimes angels in the Bible stories bring destruction — like killing the firstborn of the Egyptians, or opening the path for Israel to escape slavery, for example.
In the world of the Bible, there were no scientific explanations for the way the universe works, but there seems to be a belief that heaven and earth are not that far apart. In some places, angels being evidence, God was not that far away. According to the Bible stories, God’s angels were busy doing God’s bidding.
Now, and with more scientific understanding, we can talk about how and why some things happen. We understand more about biology, physics, how our brains work, and the impact of trauma on our lives, and. We know more about how change happens, but even experts in those fields realize that there is still mystery. And, even knowing so much, we still find ourselves fascinated — if not mystified — by why and how things change.
How is it exactly, that I wound up in Fort Worth at FUMCFW? I can trace some of the steps, but some of it still seems wonderfully surprising. How is it that, finally, slavery came to an end? We know some of the history and some of the debates. We know a lot about the war, but there is still much that remains hidden. We still ask how and why. And we develop shorthand explanations, knowing that there is still mystery — and many stories untold.
Terrible changes happen all the time. Tragedies highlight the news and yet, almost surprisingly, people hear messages inside themselves. Somehow, in the face of awfulness, they rise up and rebuild what is burned, strike out on new paths to find cures and solutions, and work in small corners of the world to make things better. And these stories, too, can be told throughout space and time — and they, too, are mysterious.
As people of faith, to our scientific explanations we add words about the presence — or messages from God. And so, right along with Longhurst we might ask:
“What if these messengers (angels) are real in some strange way today, bearing God’s news of love and justice, and telling the truth of who we are?”
Like so many things, the idea of angels, messages, or messengers of God can get entangled in debates over worldviews and personal opinions and observations. Things can seem wacky and get completely privatized when some folks see angels. But if we can allow things to be strange instead of completely certain, we might be refreshed.
In the end, this doesn’t answer my question of how things change. And it doesn’t completely clear up the mystery of how life changes. For me, however, it gives words to the sense that things, events, and people are connected. That heaven and earth are not strictly divided. And that the veil between them is often thinner than we think so we don’t lose heart.