Anne Rice, the Bible, and Cyrus the Great

I just finished Anne Rice’s Servant of the Bones. From the original queen of vampire writing, who’d have thought? A book that includes not just the gothic but profound questions of purpose and identity and (here’s what’s especially intriguing to me right now) reflects some good research into ancient Near Eastern religion and history. Marduk, the god of ancient Babylon, plays a role, Cyrus II, who founded the Persian Empire; so too the Jewish hasidim of our time.  The main character learns to love and pursue learning, even while he dissolves, shape-shifts, kills, saves, and knocks on heaven’s door. A cool read, all around…

The Problem with Angels

Ok, there are probably a lot of problems with angels, but consider this: If an angel steps in to change the course of events to benefit a person, there may be a downside for someone else. What should we do with that? Related, what about the person who simply is not helped by an angel — the devastating car accident, the mugging victim, the addict… But back to Problem #1. I got thinking about this while watching an old episode of “Saving Grace.” Here’s what happened. The angel Earle “saved” Grace from committing drunk driving homicide (you lawyers out there: is this what they call “manslaughter”? anyway…). It sure looked to us (and to her) like she’d killed the guy; but then it turns out she hadn’t. Matter of fact, it appears that the accident never happened. It’s the first time that we meet another of Earle’s charges — a guy on death row, the very same whom Grace thought that she had slaughtered. When Grace talks to him in prison, trying to figure out how all this could have happened, the guy explains that (simultaneous with the accident) he’d dreamed he was in heaven with God, but because of Earle’s actions (“saving” Grace), he had to return to “this hell-hole,” i.e. prison on death row. Hmmmm.

Galilee, Ghosts, and Time to Read

I’m really excited about my new project, which has me thinking about all things paranormal. Turns out, they’re all around us — almost, well, normal.  The Bible is one source for images and ideas, but the appeal (some would say awareness) seems basic to our humanity. If we don’t believe, exactly, we are nevertheless captivated and strangely affected by the supernatural. There’s the vampire craze, of course; but angels and demons (thank you, Dan Brown, we cannot use that phrase in exactly the same way ever again), hybrid beings, and mysterious doings are part of the warp and woof of our lives.

Cherubic Cherubim

 Out of the heaps of snow we’ve been getting lately, someone in my neighborhood has fashioned a great big Cupid in her front yard…or is it a cherub? Shoot, is Cupid himself some kind of cherub? I stood contemplating those questions for a minute or so until my dog started snuffling about at the smooshed remains of a sandwich beginning to emerge from under the packed snow, and I figured it was time to move on.
 Christmas came and went with its cards adorned by chubby-cheeked winged babies. Now it’s Valentine’s Day, and they’re back again. We’re accustomed to calling these charming figures cherubs. But it’s a biblical word, and in the Bible, cherubs are nothing like that.

Legion — the paradox of obedience

Given its title, I figured that the movie would have something to do with demons — a whole, well, legion of them… in full-on “possession” mode. After all, “Legion” is the name of a biblical demoniac, according to the stories in Mark and Luke, because many demons were involved. But in the movie, Michael (our hero-angel gone rogue) actually goes to some trouble to explain explicitly that the troops of zombie-like murderers are not possessed by demons but rather are angels fulfilling the command of God. And yet. Here the movie suggests that the line between angels and demons frays as God’s patience wears thin. That’s just one thing among many that I found intriguing about this movie. Another (and I admit I loved this) is the paradox of obedience. [spoiler alert!] Michael is finally deemed a better servant of God than the hyper-obedient Gabriel, set on fulfilling God’s command to kill off the human race. Precisely by disobeying, Michael satisfies the “need” (vs. “want” hmmm) of God. That part’s a little silly (God as some adolescent to the angels’ maturity?!). But hope for a future unwritten (no theological fatalism, here), and mercy at the hint of goodness… I like that.

Vampires and Angels

Wonder and awe, wise men and shepherds, and the angels say, “Fear not.” These are the days of extraordinary happenings, and in their very marvelousness, unnerving. The angels say, as biblical angels do, “Fear not,” even while they dazzle and disturb. These are also the days, in pop culture, of vampires — terrifying and dangerous. They, too, go in the between-places, and sometimes act as powerful guardians, just like the angels. Yet vampires and angels are categorically different, as Anne Rice recently noted. Or are they? I’m investigating the biblical shape, ways, and doings of angels, these days. And as I do, I can’t help but think about our fascination with vampires, about life and death, courage and fear. In the biblical Christmas stories, the angels are heralds of life; vampires of death (no, no, they’re not in the xmas stories; you know what I mean). The angels encourage; vampires terrify. But when we dig a little deeper, their roles are more nuanced and the boundaries less clear. And as we dig, we confront our own fascinations and repulsions and the wide wide realms of wonder and awe, mystery and possibility.

Hosting Angels

Doing some research on images of angels in biblical texts, I came across the captivating icon painted by Russian Andrei Rublev around 1410. Men, angels, or God? The peculiar story of Abraham and Sarah’s visitors in Gen 18 uses a constellation of Hebrew vocabulary that has intriguing theological implications.
Thumbnail image for rublev trinity best.jpgFor Rublev, it afforded an opportunity to meditate on the Christian mystery of the Trinity. In this icon depicting Gen 18, Rublev gives the messengers halos and wings. Not only that, but although the story appears in the Hebrew Bible (and predates Jesus by centuries), its interpretation in Rublev’s hands is an exquisite representation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.