Touched by an Angel – by Maya Angelou

Angel by Marc Chagall, All Saints Tudeley: another angel helping us see life differently?

Today is Michaelmas – in our Church of England calendar known as Michael and All Angels. One of the best loved poems about angels is by Maya Angelou. That is coincidence that the poet’s name itself is a reminder of angels and their purpose. She was born Marguerite Annie Johnson but later became known as Maya Angelou. Angelou was her married name and Maya came from the nickname used by her older brother as in “mya (my) sister”. Angelou is the Greek for angel or messenger. Maya has its own meaning in the Semitic language of the Amharas; it is a “lens that helps see further”. Isn’t that just what an angel does? Don’t they help us see further than the darkness, the pain, the hatred etc? Don’t they help us feel better? Don’t they help us to see hope, freedom, reconciliation?

Here is Maya Angelou’s poem, Touched by an Angel

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

More like the voice of angels

I am not sure why angel voices are those of women or of boys when the named angels are Michael, Raphael and Gabriel. But if I am not very much mistaken, the voice of the Webb Sisters is absolutely heavenly as it bears the gravelly voice of Leonard Cohen to the heights of beauty. For me this voice of the angel from John Tavener’s Eternity’s Sunrise sounds like it’s from the very heart of heavenI wonder if this is how angels sound. They seem to have all the time in the world.Friends Christopher Burkett and Jayne Shepherd have shared this story illustrating the power of words – surely the touch of an angel. (I wonder why Church of England bishops can’t sound and look like this).

For the record, the Webb Sisters sing (and pray) on Leonard Cohen’s new album Old IdeasWith Raphael (angel of healing) they sing Come Healing.

O gather up the brokenness
and bring it to me now
the fragrance of those promises
you never dared to vow
The splinters that you carry
the cross you left behind
come healing of the body
come healing of the mind
And let the heavens hear it
the penitential hymn
come healing of the spirit
come healing of the limb
Behold the gates of mercy
in arbitrary space
and none of us deserving
the cruelty of the grace
O solitude of longing
where love haas been confined
come healing of the body
come healing of the mind
O see the darkness yielding
that tore the light apart
come healing of the reason
come healing of the heart
O troubled dust concealing
an undivided love
the heart beneath is teaching
to the broken heart above
O let the ehavens falter
and let the earth proclaim:
come healing of the Altar
come healing of the name
O longing of the branches
to lift the little bud
o longing of the arteries
to purify the blood
And let the heavens hear it
the penitential hymn
come healing of the spirit
come healing of the limb


> Friend Owen (aged 4) wants to believe in angels. well, today is the Feast of St Michael and All Angels – and michaelmas daisies have come on cue. Owen asks some wonderful questions – as most children do.

Here’s my response:
How would we know God’s love if there weren’t angels? They are God’s messengers and the bridge between heaven and earth. (Next job – explain to Owen about heaven!!!!) There is a lovely book called Angels written by Jane Williams (wife of the Archbishop) which has some lovely pictures and thoughts in it. It is written for adults.

Angels don’t have wings! That’s how the artist explains their journey from earth to heaven – and back again. Nor are they generally recognisable – only by those who are prepared to acknowledge an angel when they see one. Owen will recognise an angel more by what they say and how they make him feel. In the Bible they usually start by saying “Do not be afraid”. Oh yes – they are alive – and they come in all colours, shapes and sizes – men, women and children.