These days, the world loves angels in every form we can imagine: TV, movies, music, books, games, decorations for the home, inspirational materials, fine arts and even angel classes. However, the real angels in our religious traditions sometimes depart from our popular culture notions about these supernatural beings. We believe that education is a great way to deepen our friendships, so we’ve scheduled a special program on angels in religious traditions. This might be an idea you could use to gather diverse friends wherever you live in the world.
Each week, this website publishes new stories by women about cross-cultural friendships. Sometimes, we offer our stories as creative ideas you can adapt and use. (If you’re just joining us, here’s a look at our best stories of 2010.)
If you live in southeast Michigan, you’re welcome to attend our January 20 angels program! But, most of our readers don’t live in our home state, so today we’ve asked some of the participants in this program to share their thoughts as they prepare for this group presentation on angels.
MOTOKO FUJISHIRO HUTHWAITE:
Motoko wrote one of the chapters in our book, an unforgettable story set during World War II. (You can find out more about our book via the links at right.) She has had a long career as an educator, scholar and editor. She is currently an active Presbyterian and peace activist.
When I first heard that WISDOM was planning a community forum on the subject of “Angels and Religion,” I was intrigued. At first I thought that our angels in Christianity are the same as the Jewish ones. I remembered that delightful story from the Bible of Balaam and his donkey who could see the angel that Balaam could not see. Then there was that story of the two angels who saved Lot and Abraham. Or that beautiful 91st Psalm where God would command his angels to “guard you in all your ways.”
But then I suddenly remembered that it was an angel who told Joseph in a dream to take Mary and the infant Jesus to Egypt to get away from Herod’s soldiers. I also remembered that it was Angel Gabriel who appeared before Mary and told her that she would bear a son and should name him Jesus. Clearly, angels appear in both the Hebrew scriptures that we call our Old Testament—and in our New Testament as well. Are they the same beings? Or, are there ways they are distinctively different across religious traditions? I can’t wait to find out more about angels.
Padma also wrote one of the chapters in our book, a story about the tough challenges she faced as she first began reaching out to promote religious diversity. She is active in the Hindu community, writes about her experiences and works with various nonprofit educational groups.
As the non-Abrahamic representative on this panel, I was interested in sharing the concept of angels from the Hindu and other Dharmic traditions. I hope that my sharing will clear some of the common misconceptions about the Hindu tradition, and possibly develop common ground out of our particularities of belief and practices. It is also an opportunity for me to research my own tradition—starting with the translation of the word “angel” into the my mother tongue (Telugu) as well as the language of my scripture (Sanskrit). I am also glad to be part of this program, because in many settings across our country these days interfaith dialogue is construed to be between the Abrahamic faiths. I know that including my bit of Eastern philosophy into our Western understanding of angels will help broaden the focus.
Lisa Berman is an artist, scholar and educator whose presentation will be the centerpiece of our program. Trained at the University of Michigan, Lisa is a sculptor who often has worked in metal and has been involved in a variety of public art installations. In the program, she will talk about angels in relation to her own spiritual and artistic journey. For our story today, Lisa shared these words:
Growing up in a Reform Jewish household during the ‘60’s, there wasn’t too much emphasis placed on angels. I associated them more with religions other than mine. I would see angels represented in museum art or as figurines in stores, however, I didn’t relate to them in a personal way. When I started working with a local sculptor on his public commission for a life-size bronze angel, at first I felt somewhat surprised at my growing connection to it. As “she” began to come to “life” in our hands, I found myself curiously drawn to the mystical and spiritual aspect of what the sculpture was depicting. I knew of a few passages about angels in the Torah (the opening portion of the Bible for Christians) and I decided to research further. Little did I know how much “Angel” would actually affect my own life journey.
NOTE ON THE PHOTOS TODAY: The street sign, above, was set up near an art gallery in New Zealand. The angel, above at right, stands atop a cemetery in Spain.
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(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)