The Fluttering of Angels
The Fluttering of Angels' Wings
I hear them. It goes with the territory, getting older, that landscape of the soul where gains and losses mount up.
It's the losses in these recent weeks that amplify the fluttering of the dark angel's wings. I do mean Paris and Colorado Springs and San Bernadino. But within those horrors of the wider world nest sorrows of the personal world. Andrew, 17 months old, the grandson of a couple at whose wedding I officiated in another century, the granddad himself clergy, once a frisky eleven year old greeting me the first month of my first fulltime parish, in Brooklyn: Andrew died in the hospital from acute respiratory failure, unexpectedly.
Jesus speaks of the little ones who have their guardian angels always before the throne of God. In my imagination I think I heard that angel's wings fluttering as Andrew took leave of us.
Thanksgiving Day our granddaughter Jessica, for reasons heaven may have designed for us while we on earth and in West Hartford had no clue, Googled for information about a former associate pastor in Valley Stream. A look of surprise and pain crossed Jessica's face. Her search of the internet discovered that my friend, fellow athlete, Texas high school All-State guard on the football team, the adventurer who once ran with the bulls at Pamplona, the Lutheran pastor at whose installation in a church in Troy NY I preached, Steve Cordes, at the tender age of 62, died suddenly and unexpectedly... the week before Thanksgiving.
The angels who guided Pastor Cordes to the New Jerusalem surely formed a phalanx, going before him as if running interference for him, their wings beating heavily. No wonder I heard them.
Cyber Monday or thereabouts word reached me by way of Alabama that a woman who attended MYF meetings with me and my correspondent on Sunday afternoons in First Methodist Church of Stamford, CT, died in Bernardston MA, in the home we looked for as we passed by on I-91 on our frequent commutes to Vermont. Rosalie Dickerson Pratt was a couple of years younger than Bobby Howard. Tall and intelligent, she married young and stayed married for 62 years. She found me on the internet and for the past thirteen years we occasionally exchanged Emails, mostly about those formative years when the world was young and so were we.
She slipped away from us following a brief illness, carried on angels' wings, hearing as never on earth (she suffered lifelong from severe hearing loss) songs angels and others sing in both places... while I sighed at the sound of the fluttering.
Add to these recent deaths the periodic reminders of mortality that accrue to my duties as college class webmaster and notifier of significant milestones: they arrive with greater frequency in our ninth decade. A hundred or more of our class's original 250 have gone the way of all mortal flesh. And the fluttering of angels' wings sometimes drones like the pipes that play "Amazing Grace" on such occasions.
Which leads understandably if not necessarily to a consideration of what lies beyond, to whatever destination the fluttering wings will take us. I have for fifty years of pastoring subscribed to the rule not to say anything more about heaven than the New Testament does; and, then, to avoid embellishment. But I confess to you that I shall be very, very upset (not that it would matter!) if those fluttering wings were the prelude to nothing. I shall hold the Apostle Paul to his word when he tells us about that "beyond" that we shall understand even as we are understood. Meaning may not be the only thing, but it is for me the main thing in this world so full of mystery and misery. Like the importuning widow at the judge's home in the midnight hour, I'll demand at the throne of grace for an explanation of Andrew's death, and the horrors of bloodshed in which our moment in time is bathed; or, better yet, ask for a vision of eternal splendor so radiant and wonderfully overwhelming that every mortal question becomes irrelevant.
Meanwhile in this season I am taking solace in Faure's Requiem and listening over and over to Pie Jesu. The words in translation (and here in summary) lift us to heaven with the prayer, "Dear Jesus... grant them eternal rest." Me too, amid the fluttering of angels' wings.