St. Michael and All Angels
Let us pray,
O God, when work and responsibility wrap around our lives like a woolen cloak, and wonder is closed off from our lives, throw aside our protection. Guide us back to those places where our soul lies open to the cool breath of mystery from your spirit. We ask this in the Name of the Creator, the Sanctifier and the Redeemer, Amen. (prayer, unknown author)
For centuries the imagination of artists and poets, writers and actors have depicted angels, messengers of God, images of angels conquering evil, casting out demons and protecting the good. St. Michael, the Archangel is a favorite subject for artists.
Defeated by the Archangel Michael and his allies, Satan loses out in heaven and, like a caged animal, Satan lashes out on earth. Evil, present and active on earth, but not all powerful. We can imagine, or form a mental image of something not physically present, when we hear these vivid descriptions of the war in heaven.
As a child, the story of the conquest of the dragon by St. Michael and his allies, triggered my imagination and introduced me to the perception of a spiritual realm that simply was not present in my physical reality. Imagining these forces at work on my behalf, of course in my imagination, they were always deployed to protect me, gave me a sense of safety and courage that I could not have found in my reality. When imagination is sparked, the creative juices flow and lives are changed. Michaelmas and the story of St. Michael and his allies is about the depth of wonder and possibility.
Our imagination allows us to visualize through the eyes of our heart. We imagine God, who knows how many hairs are on our head, God, who holds us each the apple of God’s eye, in our heart’s eye, we can see ourselves hidden in the shadow of God’s wing. Protected and safe.
The account of St Michael and the archangels and other equally compelling accounts in the Bible, put our imagination on high alert and stimulate the eyes of our heart to form a mental image of something not perceived as real and not present to the senses. Through imagination we see a spiritual realm that we cannot perceive with our physical senses.
Imagination allows us to form a mental image of something not perceived as real and not present to the senses. As Albert Einstein said, “logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere”.
Imagination is an important part of our spirituality.
Long ago the mystical Celts had a name for places that give us an opening into the magnificence and wonder of the presence of God. They called them “thin places”. Marcus Borg, in his book, The Heart of Christianity, describes a thin place as “anywhere our hearts are opened”. In Thin places, the boundary between the two levels, becomes very soft, porous, permeable. Thin places are places where the veil momentarily lifts and we behold (the ‘ahaah of The Divine’) all around us and in us”.
Although many people describe their experience of a thin place as an actual physical place where the spiritual realm is alive and evident to them, The desert perhaps, or a body of water, a cave or even something small, like the inside of a flower. I think that there is a thin place inside each of us, nestled close to our spirit, maybe within our spirit. As our imagination is brought to bear on a known reality through our mind’s eye or the eyes of our heart, a slight shift in our understanding occurs and the thin place opens and allows us to behold the truth of the Divine.
I have come to understand the “thin place” as a connection between what we have imagined or perceived as Holy and our on-going reality present to the senses . The boundary between our spiritual self and our “worldly” self becomes deeply connected and we have gone someplace new – into the unknown.
Children are the stewards of imagination in western society. Our socialization often tempers our imagination, facing imagination off with physical reality. In such a situation in the “real world” physical reality is regarded as legitimate and imagination as frivolous.
As adults, in our learned efforts to be in “control” as theologian Walter Bruggeman says, “ We seek to ‘enlighen’ what is before us and to overcome the inscrutable and the eerie in order to make the world a better, more manageable place.” That management works just fine while we are awake, and most of us are pretty good at keeping the light, power and control on 24/7.
But we have to sleep, don’t we and it is then, that we are vulnerable to the imagination, vulnerable to even more mystery, dreams.
In his Christian Century article entitled, “The Power of Dreams in the Bible”, Walter Brugemann writes that dreams, the unbidden communication in the night, were imagined by the ancients to be one venue in which the holy purposes of God come to us.
As an example, in our reading from Genesis, Jacob, on the run after tricking his brother, has to stop to sleep. After putting a stone under his head (yikes) he goes to sleep and dreams of angels coming and going, he dreams of God speaking to him and promising him safety and God’s companionship. Upon awakening, Jacob’s life is redefined by the promise that came to him in a dream.
I would say that the people of St. Michael’s have a great imagination. Perhaps the vision of your ministry came to you in a dream. I don’t know. Perhaps your courage comes from really knowing that God loves you, but your imagination is stellar.
Years ago you imagined a community that welcomes all people, an inclusive community. You have built that community.
More recently, you imagined a ministry space, your imagination led you to see a new ministry complex, what it would be like, what it would be used for, who it would serve, how it could help in God’s work in the world. You took your imagination and laid it over the physical reality, and you built it.
Instead of sitting in wondrous awe, the people of St. Michael’s have taken action. You have applied what you have learned through scripture, you have listened to each other and you use your imagination.
Your faith is active, and now, yet again, it is time to reimagine St. Michael’s. What is God calling you to do at this time, How is God acting in your life?
All the people of God are all equal partners in this enterprise, all are called to deliver God’s message of redemption to a hurting world.
Lay people, The Book of Common Prayer tells us that we, the laity are the ministers of the Church. It really does, in the Catechism on page 855 – in answer to the question, Who are the ministers of the Church? It says that “the ministers of the church are the lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons”.
The Catechism also tells us that the ministry of lay persons is “to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church”
To fully grasp the call of the laity, to fully live our response to that call we need to reimagine ourselves, not just at St. Michael’s, but all across the Episcopal Church. We need to embrace what William Stringfellow called the “radical interdependence and reciprocity between the functions of the priesthood and the laity in the total ministry of the Body of Christ in the world”.
Let’s imagine: what would it be like if the lay people of St. Michael’s really made good on all the promises we make when we pray the baptismal covenant?
What if we set our heart and mind and imagination to do these things. Listen:
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall in to sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
We say some significant things at a Baptism; but if we do not mean what we say, then it does not really matter what we say, does it?
So let’s imagine that the people of St. Michael’s practice and model the radical interdependence that Stringfellow talked about. I refer to the There are 2 million lay people in the Episcopal Church as the sleeping giant. What if St. Michael’s, through their own courage, faith and imagination helped to awaken the giant by example?
Reimagine St. Michael’s. But don’t look in the physical realm for spiritual answers. Pay close attention to the spiritual realm: dreams, in imagination expressed, in the thin places of our soul.
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place-- and I did not know it!" And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."