Why Angels Fly…
By Victor Sousa
By Victor Sousa
I once heard it said that the angels fly because they take themselves lightly. And, of course, this begs the question: how much more so the lord of the angels? I’d like to believe that were true. Because, if that were true, it would mean that our lives weren’t meant to be such a burden, and that would be such a relief. Just take a look around at the faces of strangers on the street: erstwhile soldiers in the service of our consumerist paradise, marching off with due diligence at the crack of dawn, stepping lively to meet the demands of the day. While I’m certainly not trying to make generalizations about everyone, I am fairly certain that many of these people do take life very seriously indeed. Their work is important, people depend on them, responsibility and duty are the watchwords, and the protestant work ethic lives on, all-be-it transmogrified by the hedonism of the 60s.
What these people are missing is a sense of fun and playfulness in their approach to life—because, for them, living is an incredible strain. The playful impulse, puckish wit, and whimsy for whimsy’s sake: these things are confined to the lost Eden of childhood. We still play games, and leisure time activities are the basis of major industries. But, even in our play is there not an air of desperate determination? After all, how many personal ads contain the oft-repeated disclaimer: “I work hard and play hard.” What are we really getting at when we say we play hard, anyway? It’s an aggressive attitude to say the least; the sands of the hourglass threaten to drown us and even our moments of respite must yield dividends. In the same way that corporate work-flow experts maximize productivity, we have learned to manage leisure time: just how many units of fun can I get out of a unit of time?
Is it possible that we’ve been hoodwinked here? I have begun to suspect that this might be the case. “It’s the war of all against all out there,” that’s what they’d have you believe. Its all very rational, simple, and clear when you lay it out there: man finds itself in very harsh inhospitable environs, in a world not made for his comfort and bound by laws that insure his sorrow. We must wrest our sustenance from fields plagued by drought, mourn the loss of loved ones, swallow our disappointments and go on, and on, and on. Above all that is the most important thing: we must continue our lives as long as possible and insure the continuation of our children’s lives. And why? Because living is better than death.
You won’t get any arguments from me on that score; living is better than death. But, here’s the crucial distinction: is living good only by virtue of its contrast with the alternative, or can we say its good in a more meaningful sense? I would like to believe the latter. If we only had eyes to see, we might rejoice daily at the beauty of the world. Please, give it a try. With the cool wind on your brow and the grandeur of nature in front of you, survey the world and say it from the depths of your being: “it is GOOD.” The God of the Bible did this very thing; it was only for the first six days that he labored in creating the moon and the stars and the sun—on the seventh day he rested and enjoyed his creation.
This is the tritest advice imaginable: stop and smell the roses. But clichés are clichés for a reason—they’re mostly true—and just because you’ve heard a piece of advice a thousand times doesn’t mean you ever followed it. Indeed, that might be the very reason it needs saying so often—because people don’t hear it the first time, or the second, and often never do. The angels heed this advice—and it seems to benefit them greatly. They see with the eyes that we cannot. Therefore, an examination of their disposition might behoove us.
The subject of angels, and their various proclivities, has been of great interest to theologians since time immemorial. The most famous debate concerning these creatures centers on this seemingly nonsensical question: how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? This is not a trivial question to people interested in such things because, if you answer it with any number, no matter how high—a billion, billion angels perhaps—you have asserted their essentially material nature. But, is that really an angel? To Thomas Aquinas it was not. For Aquinas, it was a peculiarity of the human condition that binds spirit and flesh so intimately together—not so the angel. The angelic is pure spirit. Consequently, the amount of angels that can dance on the head of a pin is without limit—or, in the parlance of our times, infinite.
Which is all well and good for angels—but what about men and women? It may well be that the same faculty—non-corporeality—which allows angels to dance in innumerable numbers on the head of a pin also allows them to take them selves lightly. They are not bound to flesh like mankind and they need not suffer the torments of that flesh. What does an angel know of heartbreak, disease, or death? Every human being enters the world alone and lives with the ever present knowledge that he will leave this world alone, separated from every thing and every one he ever loved.
But, I hope—for my own sake and that of others—that the human condition is not quite so hopeless as it may seem from certain perspectives. Unlike angels, we are both spirit and flesh, consciousness and matter, and a realist must accept the consequences of this condition. But our physical existence need not be the only dimension of our lives—despite the prevailing message of our consumerist society. We were taught to treat everything as disposable—razor blades, out of style clothing, even our friends. Is it any wonder that we place so little value on our selves? When we speak of human beings are we referencing nothing more than a few cubic feet of biological equipment with a seventy-year shelf life? I suspect that most people would find this definition inadequate—though they might not be able to explain how so.
If only we had the eyes to see, we would know that our real poverty is a spiritual poverty. Nietzsche said that God is dead, and it’s hard to argue with him. The great mythologies that gave form and meaning to human existence have fallen. The religious fundamentalist are a besieged minority and, I suspect, their cause is a hopeless one. We’ve gone too far down the rabbit hole now: science and reason have signaled the end of mankind’s childhood. No longer will we be soothed by bedtime stories. But, then what is left for us? What will keep the cold, cold night at bay? I’m not certain, but I can assure you that you won’t find the answer on the newspaper page.
What the world needs now is a new spiritual sense—one freed from the dogma of tradition and the narrow-minded pedants of a by-gone age. And, in all seriousness, I see such a sense growing in this generation. The increased interest in Eastern religions, the rise of new age philosophy which attempts to reconcile science and spirituality, and, perhaps most paradoxically, the rise of the so-called “new atheists” who proselytize their brand of extreme rationalism with the same fervor as an evangelist—all these signs indicate the search for a new paradigm, a way to resurrect the spiritual life of the species. In an odd way, these efforts dovetail with those of the environmentalists; while they strive to make sure that humanity has a future to live in, others labor to make sure that humanity has a future worth living for.
It remains uncertain what form such a transformation of consciousness might take—or, for that matter, if it is even possible. However, I am certain that, if it is possible, it would require a complete reorganization of society: economic, political, and social—a kind of Marxist revolution of the soul. How that might be accomplished is beyond me—I have no dialectics to work with here. Furthermore, I suspect that this is not the kind of revolution that needs a manifesto, or a violent overthrow of the government. If it does happen it will be organic—growing from the interactions of real, ordinary, individuals in their daily lives. To borrow a phrase from women’s liberationists, the personal becomes the political. And what you believe in your heart effects the world—though you may never know how. Much of what we call reality is an unspoken agreement made by unknowing conspirators—essentially, it is a fiction. The problem is that people have forgotten that they can rewrite the script. I think Gandhi put it best when he instructed, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” And, if I could humbly add my own suggestion, try to remember why angels fly when you’re doing so.
Take a deep breath and relax: it is GOOD.