Bourgeoisie Angels and Working Class Angels

July 1, 2010

It’s late, almost too late to begin something, but I’ve been thinking about angels. A friend sent me a remembrance of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a martyr of the last century under the Nazis. For some parts of my life, it may take days and false starts and distractions until I can resurrect a context to retrieve information I’ve buried in my memory. So sit with me briefly waiting in my mother’s kitchen smoking a Garcia Vega cigar, wearing a second hand tan cardigan over a buttoned up white shirt and be nineteen for the last Easter I went to church. You can stroke our first real beard and page through The Cost of Discipleship for the paper we’re writing on Bonhoeffer and civil disobedience. Or you can just sip black coffee and wait for my mother to ask if you’re going to church dressed like a bum from down on the tracks.  

Like everyone since April 30, 1945 I had been sporadically searching for Hitler. Not the Hitler identified by the x-ray of his dental bridge, but my personal Hitler, the one who had escaped to the Buenos Aires of my imagination. He was the ugly knife’s edge of pacifism, the sounding depth of Humanism and the fantasy object of untold fictional searches in thousands of disturbing forms.

Perhaps my most excessive is an astonishing film by German director Hans-Jurgen Synberg entitled “Our Hitler, A Film from Germany”. With a 442” running time it took me two days to see it at the Rice Media Center (which in those days had only apropos, but ultimately unbearable canvas director’s chairs).  Utilizing actors, documentary clips, faux documentary clips, puppets, circus charades and Brechtian staging, the film presents a vision of the psycho-cultural freak show that surrounded Hitler,and still surrounds our personal cults of Hitler. The film concludes with an actor haranguing a puppet of Hitler for inventing spiritual death. Prior to that I had merely a few weeks run of “The Producers” managing the old Mt. Adams Cinema and a poorly attended week of  Marcel Ophuls, ”The Sorrow and the Pity”, weighing in at a mere 251”.  For censorous reasons we canceled the engagement of “The Night Porter” after one night, so I’ll just hint at those images in my memory’s Hitler filmfest.

I mention these images because  Hitler was closer to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer (and I) expected from an angel’s arrival on Earth.

An angel is generally a messenger from a God whose enigmatic will had been disobeyed, and now was in the enigmatic process of correction. With broad ecumenism messengers climb up and down heavenly ladders. In the Christian Bible Adam has commerce with angelic beings after Satan convinces Eve to eat the fruit and angelic constables come for their eviction. In dramatic contrast The Quran describes a prior struggle between Adam and angels, over domination and knowledge, and subsequently Eve is tempted and so on… Zoroastrians had individual guardian angelic spirits called Fravashi. If you are a Bhuddist you might recognize the messages of  Devas. Hindus can be enlightened by both Devas and Apsaras. The list goes on, Elohim, Melachim, Malaikah, Chenrezig, I know the individual names of Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel, plus Selaphiel, Jehudiel, Baracheil, Jeremeil and Moroni. Sheraphim, Cherubim, Powers and Dominions were the classification of Angels and Archangels I had to learn in grammar school. This isn’t even begining to consider the angelic in Swedenborg, Blake, Rilke, or Rumi. And these are only the “good” angels.

Human beings have rough formed angels out of clay, depicted them in monumental architecture, paintings, statues, movies, television, plays, songs, operas, turned them into silver pendants, brass broach pins,  figurines, holy cards, and greeting cards. They’re employed to lovingly decorate nurseries, kitchens and Christmas trees.  I recognize most of this as sincere, religious expression. We also have toilet tissue, baseball teams, vigilante groups, bored strippers, snow rakes, tee shirts, copyrighted reading cards, two versions of a sexy crime fighting trio, and drops to remove secretions from dog’s eyes all named after angels. Angel wings decorate motorcycle paraphernalia and debauched angels model the line of Victoria’s Secret lingerie that bears their name.  I recognize most of that as crass, religious exploitation. Should His Holiness come under attack, the Pope retreats to Castel San Angelo; I don’t know what I think about that.

However an over familiarity with this all this angelic information, names, hierarchies and a modern sense of angelic agency seem rampant in the world I’m traveling through. I’m a pilgrim in a world with a thousand convenient petit religions and very little real moral obligation. I can connect you to a person who can get you a callback from the Archangel Raphael with the same facility a twenty year old can find you illicit drugs. It wasn’t always like this. 

When I grew up there were two types of angels, monstrous angels and guardian angels. The monstrous angels had power and proportion like Hitler. When they arrive things happen— frequently terrible things, the demise of Paradise, deluge, fire and brimstone, ends of reigns, death of every first born, Apocalypse. They didn’t bring messages about worrisome investments, finding real estate, or to tweak soul mate dating. Their fiery swords were unsheathed and they were merciless in their work.

The other type was guardian angels…sort of working familiars.  Many of us can remember a lurid religious print called “Heilige Schutengel”. It depicts a kindly fairy-like woman, looking a lot like Glenda, the Good Witch, with enormous white wings hovering as two shoeless peasant children stray across a rickety bridge over a chasm. It’s a dark and stormy night.

I grew up in a time and place when holding a union card was considered normal. Guardian Angels, I assumed were the rank and file angels, not quite probationary Clarence Oddbodies, but somehow from a lesser, dues paying caste. Guardian Angels were celestial security guards armed only with an inaudible whisper. By Ecclesiastical Tradition each of us had a personal guardian angel, but I wasn’t sure if membership applied to all mankind, or just the card carrying members of my specific religion. But the concept that lesser angels might be employed as unionized safety men seemed believable enough. There were lots of bad, dull jobs to complain about in my little city, so I assumed whomever (or whichever, I’m not quite sure about gender versus entity) had the job of guiding my spiritual safe conduct wasn’t enthusiastic about the assignment.

Even in latency I found the idea of constant surveillance creepy. But if I was hesitant about running out into traffic, drinking unmarked bottles of poison, or crossing ramshackle bridges, that was due to the work of my Guardian Angel. On the other hand,  if I carelssly sauntered towards occasions of sin, or committed sins (My precocious literacy had given me categorized lists of sins in “The Examination of Conscience”, so quite early on I recognized I had a full day of work before me.) Sister Ursa told me this made my Guardian Angel cry while trying to watch over me. Something like trying to do your math exercises after a nun slapped you.

At the risk of appearing chronologically inconsistent I feel obligated to discuss Grigori, or Watchers. The Watchers, sometimes called the “ Awakened” or “Sleepless Ones” , have a long and more colorful religious history than mine. In the Antediluvian Age there were by legend 200 Watcher Angels. These celestials fell for women. One thing led to another and before long there was a race of sort of Promethean giants known as the Nephilim [Genesis 6:4].  According to various sources including the Apocryphal Book of Enoch they brought mankind, weapons, mirrors, writing and cosmetics.  However by Genesis 6:5, they were at least partially responsible for bringing The Deluge. This early excess may account for the seeming excessive regulations on modern Guardian Angels.

Because of the exponential fruitfulness of the human race I assume guardian angels must be working on a spiritual/human assembly line, like our maligned social workers. Close the file on one soul, move on to the next, falling towers of files…a certain margin of error has to be anticipated. Maybe they apply for promotions, maybe they have focus groups and performance reviews…I can only guess based on the gifts of the Nephilim. If you have any feelings for angelic beings, please have some compassion for my poor Guardian Angel. Once I got a transistor radio in the third grade, my capacity to hear subsonic suggestions has been twisted by twangs, drumbeats and static.  My antropromorphisized Guardian Angel has changed from the beneficent Good Fairy on the bad bridge, to the worn look I get from Ms.Catar, the office manager at my Sports Orthopedist. ”Fill out the form again anyway…Whudja do this time Achilles?”.

Maybe adults don’t deserve guardian angels…maybe children shouldn’t be on collapsing bridges with or without their better angels. We all have to do the hard work in our own world; it’s not cheap or easy. “…our struggle today is for costly grace.” at least that’s what Bonhoeffer said.


3 Responses to “Bourgeoisie Angels and Working Class Angels”

  1. vivian Says:

    I like your writing because it stretches my mind in many directions.

  2. Molly Says:

    I enjoyed reading this post. Like the previous commenter states, it stretches the mind in many directions. =) I’ve lately been reading a book called The Testings of Devotion by Cheryl Dellasega which gives a glimpse into the worlds and activities of angels – their roles in Spiritual warfare, their roles in the lives of mortals, etc. The backdrop is good vs evil, but it expands so much further into beautiful descriptions of heaven, hell and the angels’ lives. I was reminded of this book in reading your post. I loved the analogy of the assembly line. You may very well be right. Thanks for the post. =)

  3. carol Says:

    angels all around me, angels up above me – that’s from some song from vacation bible school. I found that constant surveillance creepy too. Your writing is fit for the angels!

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