(“The wounded angel,” Hugo Simberg)

Hebrews 13:2:

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that, some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

People’s Facebook status reports can be interesting, at times–not so much for what they say, but for the stories they remind us of in our own lives.

I had that experience this morning. A friend of mine recently celebrated her third year of remaining alive after a massive stroke in 2007 almost ended her life. Her story is a tale in itself. She had essentially no known risk factors. She was relatively young for this to have happened. She had been given virtually zero chance of surviving it. Her doctors had told her husband that if she did survive it, she would very likely be severely cognitively impaired. Given the fact that she is a writer by trade, death seemed like a better option. Yet she not only survived, she is pretty much the same person she was prior to the stroke, if you had known her before vs. after. She will tell you she notices some cognitive deficits, but it ultimately did not affect her ability to make a living with words.

She credits me with something I know that I truthfully don’t deserve–having saved her life. For some reason, I had called her early the morning of her stroke and not reached her. It was the result of one of my habits that actually annoys my friends. The urban legend among my friends is that I don’t sleep. (Well, actually I do, just not as much as most people.) As a result of my odd hours up, my friends often become annoyed with me, as I have a habit of “calling people when I think of something.” That might be at 6 a.m., or it might be at 11:30 p.m., with an occasional blind eye to the time zones.

That phone call, although not answered, awakened her husband, who noticed she was not able to be aroused. She had suffered the stroke in her sleep, and his prompt action resulted in her being promptly treated.

More than once she has credited my phone call as the key event that started the ball rolling that ultimately saved her life. I am always reluctant to feel good about that credit, because I did nothing except behave like the annoying pest that I can be when I suddenly am inspired by my thoughts. Yet in her life, I am viewed upon as if I were an angel.

These are always hard things to swallow, and I don’t think it’s just me. I listened to another person’s story recently of discovering being referred to as “beloved” in what was otherwise a very circumspect account of a situation. Most of us don’t handle well the mantle of being the angel in the room. Why is that? Don’t we believe in an incarnate God? Don’t we believe in the spark of the divine in each of us? Sure we do…as long as we are talking about someone ELSE.

It’s so much harder to see our own divine stuff, because we think we know every single thing we have done wrong, every error, every single person we’ve hurt. If we extrapolate beyond that, we lean in the negative direction–we think of all those sins we probably committed we don’t know about, rather than the good we did that we don’t know about. It’s so much easier to believe in The God Who is Disappointed in Us, rather than The God Who Loves Us Unconditionally–because we know we are incapable of that kind of “unconditionally.”

When I see all the angel-related merchandise out there, I am struck by how we default to making these images of angels “someone who I’ll never be.” It’s like the first time I remember seeing a Barbie doll as a child. I was immediately struck with a huge pang of “I’m not her.” Not only, “I’m not her,” but “…and there is no way I will ever be her, so why bother?”

Yet I point to people who have truly been the angels in my life, and others point to me and do the same thing, and I can’t believe we aren’t all seeing the same thing. We see the Incarnation in each other when we are incapable of seeing it in ourselves…and maybe that’s okay. It’s probably dangerous to be too full of one’s own Incarnation–pathological, in fact, because to do that diminishes our capability to see it in others.

So there we are, a squad of wounded angels, carrying each other around on stretchers and pushing each other in wheelchairs, and crutching along with a steady human hand on our shoulder. The God Who is Disappointed in Us would never stand for such a thing…but The God Who Loves Us Unconditionally simply laughs and says, “I intended that, you know.”