I have to confess, I love the sound track from the recent film, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" I'm happy that it has won a Grammy, that it continues to set sales records, and that these traditional American musicians are being recognized. It's a great collection, and I find I play it often.
One of the pieces, "Angel Band," is an old folk hymn that describes what I call deathbed angels, angels who supposedly hover over the bed of a dying person, waiting to take him or her on their wings up to heaven: "O bear me away on your snowy wings to my immortal home." I liked the piece for a long time before the film was ever thought of, but it wasn't until about 20 years ago, when I had a life-changing experience, that I began to question the sentiments in the words of this song. Let me explain.
I am not a sailor, and I had foolishly gone out onto Lake Michigan with some younger people who weren't sailors either. The boat was overloaded, and in our ignorance we didn't notice that there were small craft warnings posted. As often happens, the weather turned.
Suddenly there were high winds. The water became very rough, and I was knocked out of the boat. I swam and swam, but I couldn't catch up. My panicky friends hadn't taken the sail down, and they were rapidly receding into the distance. I was awfully far from the shore, too. I was worn out, and I was frightened.
Out of breath, I stopped for a minute and tried to look around. "So," this thought occurred to me, "I guess this is how it ends."
Then rescue came, not in the form of a lifeguard in a motorboat, but in the form of an "angel" message. This message didn't tell me that I was going to die in the company of angels, but quite the opposite. I remembered, just when I needed it, a Bible verse about Jesus' night of agonized prayer in the garden of Gethsemane before the crucifixion: "And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him" (Luke 22:43).
Right there in Lake Michigan, I realized that this verse had meaning for me. I saw that God loved me, and that this fact was more important than the wind and waves. After that split second in which I agreed with the strengthening angel and disagreed with the phony suggestion that I was going to die I started swimming again, and not only did I have enough strength to continue, but it also seemed that I swam faster than before.
I reached the boat easily, climbed in, and we returned to shore. One friend remarked that I should beware of and prepare for shock, but there were no aftereffects. Instead, I spent the day in a spirit of deep thankfulness, which has continued.
Angels, divine messages, are always here with us, to strengthen us, give us encouragement, and to remind us of God's everlasting love for us. They want us to live. God's messages give us whatever we need to succeed. I learned that whatever inclination comes for me to give up is not angelic, and I have the ability to reject it.
These words from a hymn by Violet Hay ring true to me:
God's angels ever come and go,
All winged with light and love;
They bring us blessings from on high,
They lift our thoughts above,
They whisper God is Love.
Christian Science Hymnal, No. 9
My experience at the lake taught me that God's messages are always with me, that I can focus on them, and that they give me strength, not resignation.
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, wrote quite a bit about angels. In her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," she remarked on the roles of two angels named in the Bible, Gabriel and Michael. She commented, "These angels deliver us from the depths. Truth and Love come nearer in the hour of woe, when strong faith or spiritual strength wrestles and prevails through the understanding of God" (pg. 566).
The comforting lesson for me has been that angels deliver us. They are here to help us claim victory.