Monday, April 5, 2010

Hebrews 13:2 Hosting Angels

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

I spent part of Easter with my good friend, and asked her if she could dedicate a space to angels. Yes, she could. I had forgotten how Protestant friends - often uncomfortable with Goddesses and devas and spirits and totems - are quite happy to accept angels. I don't really understand the Protestant hierarchy of where angels stand in the cosmos thing, but of course don't really worry about it. Angels come in too many packages so it makes sense to me that they cross religious boundaries with ease.

Angels make up a tremendous part of traditional and Celtic pagan belief, especially within the construct of hospitality. Indeed, God welcomes all - each of us a stranger - to the household of heaven, and extending that hospitality to all strangers is a deeply rooted part of religious expression. Hospice, hospital, hostels, hotels, all are rooted in notions of hospitality. For centuries, providing hospice, hospitals, hotels, hostels, was an important part of Christian and Celtic practice.

Bridget, of course, as Celtic Goddess and Christian Saint, shares both traditions of hospitality: To welcome a stranger to your own fireside is to follow the example of Brigid, who made a welcome for all and made the Abbey a safe place of refuge and sanctuary. The fire to Bride was a flame that welcomed all, women and men, whatever faith, whatever nation.

The notion that a stranger may be an angel "unawares" makes our smallest relationships holy. My own encounters with angels are in this vein: a little old man on a train in central Wales shocked me by taking my hand and telling me lovely things about myself and my life just minutes before he popped off to Welshpool. I headed on to Brum thinking I had been sitting with an angel without even noticing! Another time, while living on the bus during summer vacs, a navy midshipmen gave me a week of food on a busride near Newport News. Those sandwiches were the only change from peanut butter and apples that I ate for well over a month! Since the midshipman boarded in Richmond at midnight and bopped off to the Navy Yard around 4 a.m, I never even saw his face.

In later travels through Wales and Ireland, welcoming strangers drove me to Welsh chapels, remote stone circles, cairns and dolmens, out of the way churches and holy wells, gifted me with food and drink and free places to kip for a night, and almost all cited the traditional custom of entertaining angels. A Christian Unitarian chapel in Carmarthenshire, with services in Welsh, actually invited me to communion - the only time in my entire life when I was so welcomed - despite my protests that I was not Christian nor ever baptized - and the entire congregation of 12 assured me that sharing communion with me was a religious necessity - for them. Thus I have had communion once in my life. And I would ask who in this story was the angel?

Entertaining angels, then, can be a part of puja anywhere on a pagan/Christian boundary. Asking angels to help with matters of the heart, or work, or family or creativity, does not deflect from a Christian belief in God. In parts of Scotland, that most Protestant of countries, it is still custom to leave food to the angels. Surely doing so today is not idolatry.

So, I will add Bridget to the angel category. She spread her magical mantle over Ireland to claim room for her hostel, and she welcomed strangers for centuries to her bed and board. This is angelic behavior.

The angel Bridget. Ok. Works for me.

Light her a candle today, and see what arrives in your life.


  1. Ah, you have here one of my very favorite verses from the bible: it reminds me that divine messengers are all around me, in forms that I may not immediately recognize. It also reminds me that grace may come to me from anywhere, and that grace flows through me into the world, regardless of my intent. (I rather think it flows more freely, however, if I'm at least open to the idea.)

    I am deeply touched by your story of the Welsh congregation who understood that including you in their communion celebration was essential to their own souls. (It grieves me that people of faith persistently dishonor their most sacred rites with petty bigotry.) Do not doubt that you were the angel in that story, my friend; you were as much a conduit of grace as you were a recipient.

  2. Staying in hostels is often associated with "backpacking", and as such carries the connotation of the money-saving traveler.

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