On golf and guardian angels
Back in 1982 I was at golf practice when, quite suddenly, the blue skies all around us began to take on a more sinister colour - a strange mix of almost-black with bits of dark ochre. Although I knew of no saying that addressed ochre skies ("Ochre skies at day, better stay away?") I figured it couldn't be good, so I mentioned to my golf coach that, as we were only on the 12th hole, we probably should think about cancelling the meet and heading back to the clubhouse. In a response I discerned as too personal he said to me that I should think about playing better, as my performance that day had been enough to cause all of Scotland to regret ever having invented the game of golf in the first place. Funny guy.
Not wanting to be argumentative (and - I'll admit - desiring to take some of the focus off of the veracity of his critique on my playing) I mentioned that my father had once seen a man killed by lightning on a golf course, and that he always cautioned me to get inside as soon as the weather began turning, as being in the middle of a fairway holding a metal club was just asking for trouble. The coach said to me that if lightning did strike one of my clubs that it would be the first decent hit involving a club of mine all day. Hilarious.
I said that it was no joking matter (I'll admit - desiring to take some of the focus off of the veracity of his critique on my playing) and that Dad was pretty adamant about it, so I felt torn between listening to my coach and honouring my father as the commandments say I should. "Your father's not here," the coach rebutted, "so I guess you're going to have to listen to me instead."
Just then, under the angry skies, a small white speck appeared on the horizon; a golf cart was hurtling towards us. As it drew near, I could see that it was piloted by none other than my dear father George. "That'll be Dad," I said smugly to the coach, "so I guess I can listen to him now."
The coach was dumbfounded. "What is he, some kind of superhero who knows when you're in danger?" he asked before shouting to the others to return to the clubhouse and that practice was cancelled.
"Something like that," I said.
I think my teammates would have been mortified if one of their parents had done something like that, and a few laughed at the whole scene. When one is an adolescent, striving for some sort of independence is the norm. And I did want to be independent, didn't want to be perceived as the spoiled-rotten Daddy's boy that I was (and - let's face it - still am in many ways). But standing under angry and blackened skies, the winds moaning over the prairies, what seemed more important at that point in time was that I felt protected and loved. And although I knew that I couldn't realistically expect Dad to always somehow magically appear when I was in danger (George is not a superhero, just an ordinary run-of-the-mill hero), I knew that the awareness of him - of that love and protection - would certainly serve me, would allow me to face the darkened skies of my life bolstered by that love and protection. And that - I can tell you - is not insignificant.
Traditionally on this day is celebrated the Feast of the Guardian Angels. Although in the Church of England we tend to lump all the angels together on the 29th of September, I think it's nice to have a day in which we remember these unique and particular beings, the guardian angels. In Christianity devotion to the guardian angels can be traced back to the 4th Century (although it was already an element in the religiosity of our Jewish ancestors), but it was really the Franciscans who put the feast on the radar in 1500. The feast was then put on the universal liturgical calendar in 1607.
Now I grant that many can consider angels a bit like the imaginary friend about which I wrote last week: made up but basically harmless. And I am not really going to enter into an angelological debate here (although I will point out that the poor guardian angels always get classed in the lowest ranks, which seems harsh to me). I'll leave it to Aquinas to reflect on how many of these heavenly incorporeal beings can dance on the head of a pin. No, for me, the idea of guardian angels is what I find most compelling and - I must say - most comforting. I like the thought of a God so filled with love for his children that he seeks to protect us from all dangers real and imagined. Naturally, we are protected from the most pressing danger - the finality of death itself - due to the saving life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but if we can also bring ourselves to reflecting on the reality of God's love and protection in other dark times, is that such a bad thing? The world can be a pretty harsh place. I like the idea that God cares enough about us to create an entire order so that we're not facing it alone.
Am I being silly? Am I, as an adult, continuing to indulge in having an imaginary friend? Perhaps. (My guardian angel is - for obvious reasons - named George.) And, yes, I know that I can't expect some creature to magically appear whenever I am in danger. But I believe that awareness of the love and protection God desires to give me does strengthen me, if, in no other way, in that I am more open to seeing it in the love of others. And seeing it in others then inspires me to try - more and more - to show it to others. And this - I can tell you - is not insignificant.