The role of angels in the Christmas story is deeply familiar to almost everyone in the Western world. And from that story we get much of our sense of what angels are about. The story tells us that they are messengers from God who announce earthly occurrences of divine importance. They show concern for all humanity, not just those in power, appearing to ordinary, humble people perhaps more readily than to kings and rulers. They seem to have special concern for the Christ child, showing up to announce and celebrate his birth. And they are not threatening. They seem to be there only to help and comfort and announce the good news.
As you are probably aware, angels are enjoying tremendous popularity these days. I have seen television shows with story after story of people's angelic encounters. We even have a store here in Sedona called Angels, Art and Crystals. All of this naturally prompts a Course student to wonder what A Course in Miracles has to say about angels. At first blush one might assume that angels are either too biblical or too New Age to be given any credence by the Course. Yet before we let our preconceptions get too solidified, let's simply ask: What does the Course itself say on this subject?
There are at least ten references to angels in the overall body of Course material (I'll number them for the sake of referencing them below:
- Absence from Felicity, p. 19).
What do these references tell us about angels? First, and somewhat surprisingly, these passages clearly treat angels as real, rather than as mere symbols or metaphors. In several passages they function right alongside other real things; for example, "Your newborn purpose is nursed by angels, cherished by the Holy Spirit and protected by God Himself" (1). Here, angels share what is essentially a parenting function (in rearing "your newborn purpose") with God and the Holy Spirit. Another example:
God's angels hover near and all about. His Love surrounds you, and of this be sure; that I will never leave you comfortless. (8)
The point of this passage is that we are not alone. "God's angels" are with us, God's Love is with us, and Jesus is with us. Not only are angels classed alongside definitely real things (God's Love and Jesus), but, unless they are real, the passage is rather empty. Who would be reassured by being told: "Take comfort; you are not alone. Around you hovers a whole host of mere metaphors"?
These passages, in other words, treat angels as being every bit as real as God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus. Angels are also said to be creations of God (10), and it hardly needs pointing out that God creates only what is real.
So the Course clearly regards angels as real. That can be quite a lot to take in. Think about that for a moment. According to the Course, angels are real. I have known for years that angels are spoken of as real in the Course, but until this moment I don't think I have ever sat down and tried to let that idea become part of my mind.
This doesn't mean that the form angels take is real, because all form is unreal. It means that the mind within the form is real and is eternal, just like our minds. The same point is made about the Holy Spirit: He takes the form of a Voice, but "this form is not His reality" (C-6.1:5). So the robes and wings are symbols, just as our own bodies are, but the angel's mind is as real as yours and mine.
What do angels do? What is their function, according to the Course? Very simply, they serve our awakening. This is often depicted as offering us protection (2, 5, 10). This theme of protection comes out in many contemporary stories, where people are saved from injury or certain death by the invisible (and sometimes visible) hand of an angel. But although angels may very well do that, this is not what the Course means by protection. From the Course's standpoint, what endangers us are not trucks and bullets but our own unloving thoughts. They are the real cause of our pain. If angels, therefore, are to offer real protection, they must protect our minds from unloving thoughts. They must protect our peace from the harsh intrusions of our ego. And this is exactly what the Course depicts them doing.
They also protect us from being alone. Seven of the ten angel passages depict them being with us. They are said to be around us (2), surrounding us (5, 6), or "near and all about" (8). I wonder how we would feel if we really took that idea seriously.
This leads into the angels' love for us. Traditionally, angels are viewed as having an adoring love for God's Son, Jesus. They announce and attend his birth. They minister to him in the desert. They show up at his tomb and announce his resurrection. As God's servants, they love all that God loves, and what does God love more than His Own Son? In the Course, this same idea holds true, but now we are God's Son. Therefore, all of the adoration and devotion the angels give to the Son of God they give to us. We can count on their love and care just as Jesus could, for we too are God's Son.
In fact, in the same way the angels showed up at the birth of Jesus two thousand years ago, the Course depicts them showing up at the birth of the Christ in us. Two of the Course's angel passages apply Christmas imagery to our own awakening, and several of the others fall into the same pattern of angels attending a spiritual birth in us. Let me try to weave all of these passages together into a single narrative.
Try to picture the following: Imagine that you have a moment of profound forgiveness. In an instant, "an ancient hatred becomes a present love" (T-26.IX.6:1). Someone who seemed so different, so lost in sin compared to your cleanliness and uprightness, suddenly seems like your long-lost brother. The past falls away and you feel the deepest sense of kinship with this person. This moment, says the Course, changes your whole journey through time. It becomes your personal passage from B.C. to A.D., for it invites the Christ to be born in you. From this moment, He will begin to grow inside you until the day you fully realize that He has been your true Identity all along.
This act of forgiveness, says the Course, is a holy instant, as holy as when Jesus was born. "Earthly sounds are quiet, and the sights to which I am accustomed disappear" (W-pII.303.1:3). The holiness of this event calls the angels to you. They come to watch this hallowed occurrence. For they adore God's Son, and would not miss his birth for anything. They surround you and watch with you while this glorious event takes place.
Yet they are there as more than just witnesses. They form a circle of protection around you, to keep this birth safe from all the cruel thoughts that would snuff it out. Try to vividly picture the following passage:
Around you angels hover lovingly, to keep away all darkened thoughts of sin, and keep the light where it has entered in. (T-26.IX.7:1)
Notice that the angels are hovering around you. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines "hover" as "to hang fluttering in the air or on the wing," or "to remain suspended over a place or object." In this image, the angels are not speeding to and fro on errands of great urgency. To hover around someone implies that you are so interested in that person that all you want to do is be in his presence. That, it seems, is how the angels feel about us. The passage makes this clear by saying that they "hover lovingly." Now let's look at a similar passage. Again, take some time to vividly imagine it:
[With this occurrence in you,] you invite the angels to surround the ground on which you stand, and sing to you as they spread out their wings to keep you safe, and shelter you from every worldly thought that would intrude upon your holiness. (W-pI.183.2:2)
Note how their wings here are not just symbolic of flight, of their nature as creatures of Heaven. The wings are symbolic of loving protection. Just as a mother bird might shelter her brood under her wing, so the angels keep you safe under theirs. And just as a mother would, they sing to you.
In addition to protecting this new life, they are also there to nourish it, to provide it with the sustenance it needs. The Christ child that is born in you is actually "nursed by angels" (1). Again try to imagine this. This new life in you is not merely fed by angels, but nursed by them. Think of the connotations of that word. The nursing of the Christ child at Mary's breast is so touching an image that it has inspired countless paintings. And the Christ child in you too is being nursed—by the angels.
Christmas in the Course is about the birth of Christ in us. Yet when we experience this birth, either in little ways or larger ways, we often worry that we will be inadequate parents of it. Reading about angels in the Course can help soothe these fears. With all the loving care they are said to bring, how can this new life in us be harmed? How can it waste away from lack of nourishment? How can it suffer from neglect? The love that is poured on us by the angels is so tender that it can make us ache to hear of it. We get the feeling that our awakening is guarded so lovingly, watched over so patiently, and nurtured with such care, that we cannot fail in our efforts to reach Heaven. We can lay aside our anxieties about coming home. We can simply rest, secure in the awareness that "God's angels hover near and all about" (8).