Monday, September 29, 2008

The Trouble with Angels

Throughout human history, in our philosophy and in our cosmology (or worldview), the pendulum of our place in the cosmos has swung back and forth again and again. Are we the crown of creation or are we just "trousered apes?" In our tinkering with the inner and outer worlds that we find ourselves swimming in, we are often ennobled and belittled all at once. The great Shakespeare summed it up well: "What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?" (Hamlet, Act V, scene ii) And of course, the Bible encapsulates the enigma even better: "What is man that you should care for him? You have made him little less than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under his feet" (Psalm 8) The perennial question remains for each of us as to where our destiny lies. Are we angels or are we animals? The singer-songwriter John Gorka once sang "We are dust that was made in stars, now we roll off to work in cars. When we were young we spilled our dreams in bars. Now we clean up the mess." I think the answer as to our place in the universe is, scandalously, up to you and me. You see, we alone in this wonderful cosmos can choose chaos. We can be sacred or profane, holy or horrible. No other created reality, stars, dogs, planets, buttercups, can choose it's identity. But we can. I think this freaks us out. I've been reading an amazing book for the past few months (that's my style, a couple pages at a time). It's called the Philosophy of Tolkien by my hands down favorite author, Dr. Peter Kreeft. He took me through a whirlwind of deep thoughts by positing this idea that we, as free persons made in God's image have the power (because of our freedom) to maim or to manifest that image; to distort or declare it. At the end of the day, I think we are afraid of this great task that God has laid upon us; the challenge of living up to our own dignity. We seem today to be shrinking away from it, from our worth as human beings. God has "put all things under our feet," and all we are concerned about is leaving our "carbon footprint." Wake up, people of the earth. "Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows." (Luke 12:7) And this brings us to today's Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. They are clarion calls to us, trumpet blasts from the Realms of the Infinite. Their mission it is to "trouble" the waters of our complacency, to stir us up, to remind us that there are indeed "more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies." (thanks again Mr. Shakespeare). Are we angels or are we animals? Neither. We are men and women, a unique bridge in the visible universe that opens up into an invisible world. So today we should take a long look below us at the plethora of animals and a deep look into Heaven at the myriads of angels. We should rise to the occasion and take our assigned seats in God's plan; to be voices of praise lifting up created reality, and hearts made for eternity that will someday swim in God.
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