Feast of St. Michael and All Angels
In my own reflections on life I am increasingly struck by the fact that there is something and not nothing. And that what is is so magnificent. Today we celebrate the feast of St. Michael and All Angels. Which, among other things, serves to remind us that there are yet more realms of glory beyond this one, glorious as it is. The angels are messengers, messengers from another realm of glory to this one.
I don’t know much about angels—I’ve only heard tell. But the “angelic” is something more familiar, even down to earth. Even we human beings can be “angelic”, in the sense of being messengers from heavenly realms. Messengers from God.
The great Russian-American choreographer George Balanchine, who founded the NYC Ballet, thought of his dancers as angels. He was a communicant member of the Russian Orthodox Church. As a boy he played at being priest, imitating his archbishop uncle; as an adult, he was something of an amateur theologian, and enjoyed theological discussions with the poet W.H. Auden and the composer Igor Stravinsky. *
He thought of his dancers, in all seriousness, as angels and his choreography as angelic, bringing something of the light and grace and beauty of the heavenly realms into this world. And, indeed, his choreography, probably more than any others’, raised the art of classical ballet from being an entertainment for Russian aristocracy to an art form with the capacity to express the sublime and the universal.
There are parallels in the other arts, as well. We might think of some kinds of music as angelic in nature, bringing messages of things heavenly.
And, there are still more messages and more messengers. God always has more. There is another angelic presence among us with a very different kind of message. The homeless, the destitute. We brothers are privileged this weekend to have under our roof a gathering of Ecclesia Ministries, a ministry to the homeless that began here in Boston and is spreading to many other cities, even abroad. A special welcome to you all—you honor us by your presence.
The homeless, the destitute are an angelic presence of quite another order. Mortal, to be sure, with very real suffering, very real needs to be met. But messengers, with a message. From the musicians and dancers we hear messages of light and grace and beauty that lead us toward the fullness of our humanity. From the destitute and homeless we hear the message that what is to be, is not yet. Our humanity is not complete. Our humanity is incomplete, unfulfilled, until none are left out in the cold. None of us is all we are meant to be until none are left out in the cold.
We do well to listen to the angels’ songs and dances of grace. We do well to listen to their cries of anguish.
*See “By With To & From” by Lincoln Kirstein, p. 201-206 (New York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1991.