Thursday, October 4, 2018

Angels (and Fisherman's Rest Revisited)

We had the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the Archangels, recently; and the celebration of the Guardian Angels shortly after that. I want to pause a moment to reflect on this. If we are thinking about the angels, let us try to remove from our minds whatever popularized or sentimentalized images may be pasted on them. Recall how the first reactions of persons in Scripture when confronted by angels are often of fear, and one of the first things the angel often says before delivering whatever message it brings is “Do not be afraid.” (Some links and references about angels are listed below.) I try to imagine an unexpected meeting with an angel by imagining being suddenly met with a person of imposing presence, striking appearance, and an air of authority, addressing themselves unexpectedly and directly to me and plainly expecting a clear and definitive response. As if before you can even say “Can I get back to you on that” the answer is “Respond, or not. Come with me, or stay where you are” Not that they are in a hurry, or that they are going to force me to go anywhere. And angels exist in eternity, so "later", as we understand it, is not even an option. Rather, I always have a choice to make about whether I am with the Lord, or not. Faith is not a matter of what I feel about God but about the relationship I have with Him. Jesus became flesh and walked the dusty, treacherous roads of 1st century Palestine so that the Ancient of Days, the Triune God, could be approachable in form and spirit: fully human, and fully divine. 

The Ancient of Days
William Blake, 1794
Public domain, Wikimedia art
In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus strongly urges that we follow him without delay. “And another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.’ Jesus answered him, ‘No one who sets his hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:61-62) Of this passage, Pope Benedict XVI writes, “There is the time of being called in which the decision is present, and it is more important than what we have thought out for ourselves and what is in itself quite reasonable. The reason of Jesus and his summons have precedence: they come first.”[i] As I said above, I always have a choice to make about whether I am with the Lord, or not. Impatience, sloth, resentment, fearfulness – even duty– or the Lord? Maybe that approach to the passage is scrupulous, or legalistic, or even trivial. Jesus was always teaching, and here He deliberately sets adherence to Him against another good thing, duty to family. He calls us to recognize not so much a hierarchy of values, but the greatest good. Remember that He said “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Since that is so, other goods flow from that; they cannot be separate. The course of the river is below the source, never above. Grace flows downhill, as it were. Pride by nature is uphill of grace. You’ve heard that you can’t go home again; you can’t get to grace from pride, either. Doesn’t any preference I have for my own way, over against the truth, have a taproot in pride?
If I am scrupulous (prideful) regarding sinful shortcomings, I might miss a harmful attachment to something good of itself. It is harmful if I cling to it in favor of God, the greatest good. An attachment to home, for example; especially if in some period in my life I felt like I didn’t belong wherever I was, and then I found a place to call home, I might place a high value on that, and I would have to find ways to detach myself from it.

Fisherman’s Rest Revisited

After I wrote the post Fisherman’s Rest a couple of months ago, I talked to a man who grew up in the countryside relatively near to there. He told me that when he was a kid he would ride his bike the twelve-mile distance from his home to Fisherman’s Rest, to fish, while wearing his waders to boot. That would be hip waders or chest waders, I presume. He’s a strapping figure of a man now and about half my age; I can imagine his stalky adolescent self, peddling along Hwy 63 and the county roads, up and down some steep hills, in the waders, with fishing gear somehow attached. Not something you saw every day fifteen or so years ago and perhaps even less now, as the young become more detached from reality in virtual reality. He was determined, on a mission, and he is on a mission still as a priest of the Church. May the river of grace overflow for him.

The Red Shed, 11 x 14, oil on panel,
Peter Bougie Copyright 2018
That man has left this area, and he might be interested to know of some changes at his old fishing place. Man and nature have both been at work. The decaying building I painted is now gone. It is no surprise. On the day I painted that picture, a backhoe was parked on the opposite side of the building. Demolition was scheduled then and is now completed. Where the building stood a slope is now graded out. Standing near where I painted that picture, and looking through the space which the old ruin once occupied, I did a painting of a shed located a hundred yards or so to the north. It is also a building in decay although not as advanced as the other. The attraction here is the color red, intense in some areas and weathered in others; the bold angled shadow of the projecting eaves, the shadows within the openings of the shed (thick with ghosts that would flee, unsubstantial, should you enter), and the broad sunlit green grass before it, trimmed by the ample shade of a towering cottonwood. Some might find it nostalgic; for me it is more a matter of a combination of color, form, bright sun light and shadowed interiors (the heat of the day, a shaded resting place), and some subdued but evident indications of the near and the far.

We had heavy rains late in August and early in September, and the fallen tree trunk spanning the water in Below the Chute is gone now, too. It was a big log and high above the stream and I am sure it took some real water to move it out of there.

So the summer has passed, and it’s subjects along with it. The season, all blooming, all growth; such things remain as the rings that were added to the girth of each tree and the dry rattle to the end of each uncommon rattlesnake; some new paintings stacked up here in my home, among some from past years that still remain here, and the many remnants elsewhere I will never know about. “For the fashion of this world passeth away” (1 Corinthians 7:31) and we enter the dark time of the year.

The Red Shed, detail
Copyright 2018 Peter Bougie

Professor Peter Kreeft on angels:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on angels:

[i] Ministers of Your Joy: Scriptural Meditations on Priestly Spirituality, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, 1989, an imprint of Franciscan Media, 29 W. Liberty St., Cincinnati, OH

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