A Vision of Angels: Given on the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

David Russell Mosley

21 July 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

A few weeks ago, over on our Caring Bridge site (where you can read about our second son, Edwyn and his battle with the dragon called neuroblastoma), I posted some fatherly and theological reflections on one of my sons having cancer. I wrote this sentence, ‘I believed in angels, and other spirits; I believed in sacred spaces and that yet the whole world is sacred; I believed that the communion of the saints included those who have departed this life and that they can pray for us; I believed that the sacraments were mediations of God’s grace to us in physical, material objects. Now, however, I feel as though I am finally experiencing these things as realities.’ Yesterday at the spoken Eucharist service at our parish church here in Beeston, I had one of those experiences.

Now, I have to be completely honest, I’m not very good at talking about these things. I was raised in a relatively cessationist Christian tradition (that is, the belief that certain miraculous gifts: prophecy, healing, etc., had ceased after the finishing of the New Testament). I’m also still enough of a Modern to be uncomfortable talking about an experience of something un-empirical. This is why I’m writing it down, it provides a degree of separation between you and me. Nevertheless, I have affirmed the possibility of these things for quite a long time now. Here is what happened.

I was sitting in the nave of the parish church as the liturgy was being said. I found myself continually looking at the stained glass window at the back as well as a relief of the Last Supper which was bookended by two angels. It made me think about how little we consider angels, or at least how little I consider them. Again, in much of my upbringing we limited our knowledge of angels solely to the text of Scripture and often ended by saying, they’re a bit of a mystery and Jesus is more important anyway. I started thinking about John Milbank’s interview at Big Ideas from several years ago. John says at one point in the interview, ‘I mean, I believe in all this fantastic stuff. I’m really bitterly opposed to this kind of disenchantment in the modern churches, including I think among most modern evangelicals. I mean recently in the Nottingham diocese they wanted to do a show about angels, and so the clergy – and this is a very evangelical diocese – sent around a circular saying, “Is there anyone around who still believes in angels enough to talk about this?” Now, in my view this is scandalous. They shouldn’t even be ordained if they can’t give a cogent account of the angelic and its place in the divine economy.’ As I thought about this and continued to participate in the liturgy, I found myself staring into the eyes of Christ at the top centre of the window at the back of the nave.

I closed my eyes and as often happens when we close our eyes after looking at something through which light was shining, the outlines of the window remained with me. This alone is a rather brilliant picture of what role angels and the saints play (as well as icons and stained glass windows), they shine forth the light of God. Suddenly, with my eyes closed, the number of shadows began to multiply. I saw myself surrounded by these shadows and I knew that what I was being shown were the saints and angels that are always around us, always watching over, praying for us, and guiding us in Christ through the Holy Spirit to the Father. The vision, as shadowy as it was, was overwhelming in its majesty. My heart began to race; my chest felt as though there were something very heavy pressing down upon it. I nearly began to weep right there in the middle of the service.

Picture of Southwell Minster. Taken by my mom.

Picture of Southwell Minster. Taken by my mom.

Later that day, I was invited by a friend to attend Evensong at the Minster for our diocese in Southwell. With the exception of the anthem, the service was beautiful. The choir sang with fervour and passion. Then we came to the final hymn, Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones. The first stanza of which is:

Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
bright seraphs, cherubim, and thrones,
raise the glad strain,
Alleluia!

Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers,
virtues, archangels, angels’ choirs

As soon as we sang these words I knew that what I had seen was no figment of my imagination. I smiled and praised God and sang all the more the rest of the song. In that moment I was confirmed that my son, Edwyn, in fact my whole family are watched over by God, his angels, and the communion of saints. Here is the song in full:

Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
bright seraphs, cherubim, and thrones,
raise the glad strain,

Alleluia!

Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers,
virtues, archangels, angels’ choirs,

Refrain:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Alleluia! alleluia!

 

O higher than the cherubim,
more glorious than the seraphim,
lead their praises,

Alleluia!

Thou bearer of the eternal Word,
most gracious, magnify the Lord, Refrain

 

Respond, ye souls in endless rest,
ye patriarchs and prophets blest,

Alleluia,
alleluia!

Ye holy twelve, ye martyrs strong,
all saints triumphant, raise the song, Refrain

 

O friends, in gladness let us sing,
supernal anthems echoing,

Alleluia,
alleluia!

To God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Spirit, Three in One, Refrain

Words: Athelstan Riley (1858-1945), 1906

Music: Lasst uns erfreuen (Geistliche Catholische Kirchengeäng, Cologne, 1623)

Meter: LM with Alleluias

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Rest in Peace, Strat

A man who’s thought has so influenced my own, though he never knew it, is gone from this world. I long for our meeting when all things are made new. Resquiat in pace, Strat.

Christ & University

Even though he probably never even heard of us, I’ve long considered Stratford Caldecott a friend of thisStratford-Caldecott blog. Well, “friend” might not be the right term. Perhaps “mentor” would be better. We’ve reviewed one of Strat’s books here. And I’m currently reading the follow-up volume Beauty in the WordThese two volumes have been very influential about the way I think about education, especially through a theological lens. The title of Strat’s final book, Not as the World Gives, reminds me of the calling of Christian higher education to teach, to educate, to give…but not as the world does. Christian universities should be peculiar places—not sectarian necessarily, but strange. Reading Strat’s books always reminded me that at the heart of every Christian act, including education, is love. This is the peculiarity of Christian higher ed: we teach, we form, we contemplate truth, first and foremost as…

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An Update on My Son, Edwyn

David Russell Mosley

 

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7 July 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
QMC, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

As many of you know, our son Edwyn has been diagnosed with neuroblastoma. His prospects are really quite good, but it is still a hard and trying time for us. We have started a page on Caring Bridge where we will be keeping those interested up to date. We covet your prayers. Please do follow our Caring Bridge site for updates: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/edwynmosley.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley