Angels and Demons.

Following up on thoughts of what’s among us. The Kingdom of Heaven. The other place. These things not necessarily having what we might call ‘objective’ existence. If there were no people, would there still be heaven and hell? What is the field on which these things have their existence?

Having mulled this over, I’m asking now where demons and angels actually are. The question, like “Are you still beating your wife?” makes assumptions. That there are angels. And demons. And that they have some kind of existence other than as extensions and projections of our own personalities.

Whether they are, what they are, and where they reside are all kind of contingent on each other. For myself, I am certain that both angels and demons exist. The demons are maybe, given the proclivity of our culture for reading bad news, easier to spot. They’re predators, they’re hungry, and they feed on human agony, horror, and despair. I believe that there’s some kind of ‘where’, not in the five-sensory three dimensional postulation that we think we inhabit, that butts up against our own, or that we share, co-inhabit. We are their access point, or their field of operation.

There are wasps that turn caterpillars into zombies so that their young can feed on them. I think this is particularly horrifying to us because it mirrors our relationship with the demonic. I don’t think the things we call demons would exist in our world if we didn’t. In effect we become demons for each other.

But, and we’re not so good at seeing this, we are also angels for each other. It may be that I have the responsibility to recognize when demonic energy is scratching at the door, trying to get through me. If that’s true I also have the right to recognize angels when they’re at work. I have known people, ordinary, screwed-up folk, but folk who pray and acknowledge, under some nomenclature, the love of God, be of great service to each other, doing angelic interventions that help others in remarkable ways. It’s not, in those cases, about commitment to service, helping out of charity. It’s listening, and then doing what is called for.

The biggest demonic infestation I know of in living history is the Holocaust. It’s not the death toll – it’s the horrifying intentionality of it. And along with the demons, angels show up.Irina Sendler. Raoul Wallenberg. Corrie ten Boom. Big names, but there are thousands of them.

The thing is, that angelic possession can maybe be as hard on the human host as the other kind. Sendler was caught and tortured. Wallenberg disappeared, and probably died, in some gulag. Corrie ten Boom went to a concentration camp.

But we didn’t see angels walking the streets of Warsaw with flaming swords. They could only get access through us.

I guess, cutting a long story short, we’ve incarnated into a battle-field, but, as far as I can see, it’s not a battle-field that exists beyond the confines of us. Among ourselves we are, or hold, or inhabit, both heaven and hell, and in that habitation we host both demons and angels.

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Hell

Just the word Hell breeds fear. If it exists, then it’s possible that I’ll end up there. The horror of it rests in my belly, just below my solar plexus. The idea’s been with us so long that I think it’s found its way into our DNA, the idea of a place where human beings are held in eternal agony for what we did when we were alive.

I know Christians who are very sure that Hell exists. With it comes the corollary that they might well end up there, and under their gay apparel of worship and love there’s a terrified animal trembling in the dark.

My father died sure that he was going to Hell. Given the things he’d done in his live, if the logic of damnation held true, he was likely right about this. The truth is that he lived in hell, a hell of addiction and violence and horror. Raised by an ‘upright’ alcoholic father who was free with his belt and his fists, and by a bible-thumping mother who locked her children in the closet to drive the devil out of them, his first job, after his father made him quit school. still in his late teens, was as a guard in a maximum security penitentiary. He didn’t have much of a chance, I think.

But I remember the tenderness he could find. I remember, before the demons entirely took him over, how much he loved me. I remember him stopping the car and weeping because he’d hit a fox. And I remember him crying with as much grief as I’ve ever seen in my life as he surveyed the bloody ruination he’d wrought on my mother’s drunken body.

They lived in hell those two, causing each other, and their children, incalculable damage. What kind of justice would seek to punish them further? I guess I’d hope, if ever there were any kind of post-mortal reckoning, that it might amount to looking at, and fully recognizing, the damage you’d done. What could be worse?

My core belief is that everyone does the best they can. This is easier to work with in the case of broken and tormented people than it is with people who consciously, knowingly, inflict unimaginable pain on others, people like the gang who ran the Buchenwald concentration camp. There’s hell on earth for sure, but the people who lived in torment that must have seemed eternal were not the perpetrators; they were men and women and children kept alive in the larder for things that gnawed and fed on their bodies and souls.

Did Josef Mengele, Ilse Koch, Wilhelm Boger, do their best? Was there a moment in time where they surrendered to the demon? Were these people just ‘criminally insane’, used opportunistically by a regime that had a dark agenda? I knew a little boy once who caught mice and boiled them alive. He spent much of his childhood in an institution for criminally insane children, a hell on earth if there ever was one. I tutored him one summer when I was eighteen, and he was between institutional sojourns. And he was, with all of that, just a little boy. Should that little boy be in hell?

Josef Mengele was a family man, loved and respected by his children. He didn’t bring his work home with him. At work he sewed Jewish children together to make Siamese twins. What was that for him? I expect we’ll never know. It’s unbearable to imagine. Either he was a sane and rational human being who chose to lie down with the devil, or he was a decent man with a crack in him where the devil got through.

We can look at these extreme instances to come to terms with the concept of hell. We can pick the worst people in the world to protect ourselves from our own shadow and say yes, they deserve to be in hell for sure. But it’s a slippery slope, this damnation business. For myself, I’m pretty sure that hell is here. If the Kingdom of Heaven is among us, so is the other one. The demons are vigilant as they look for cracks. Their access is through us, through the cracks in us. Is it our fault if we’re cracked?

The truth is that we’re all cracked. It’s just that some of us are in a position to do much greater harm, or are cracked in more strategic places. that I haven’t done truly appalling things is my good fortune, and not to my credit.

If Heaven is something we can build here among ourselves, so is Hell. To move either of them into some abstract future state outside of this incarnational plane seems to me to be futile. If you kill me and then go to hell for it, it’s not going to do me much good, and it certainly won’t help you.

The Kingdom of Heaven

Whenever I pray I say “Lord, You are my home and my destination.” I have a sense of being in powerful movement. Movement implies away from and towards. The away from is clear. It’s my life, the flesh, the whole aching incarnate reality. The towards part is harder to understand. Many Christians see it as Heaven. We’ll get through the hardship of life and find ourselves restored, even the flesh restored, in the Kingdom of God.

That’s never felt real, or even that interesting to me. The ‘me’ of me is a construct, a locus of consciousness situated in time and space, and a lot of the time and space it’s been situated in has been very difficult, from severe and ongoing childhood trauma through the downstream effects of that into blindness and poverty. I have very little interest in being that me any more, and I can’t imagine being any other me.

I can say these things with joy, which is interesting. Yes, I’m blind and I’m poor and I had a rough life, but outside of the context of it I’m feeling held, more and more, all the time. When the Bill mind is dark and full of pain and sadness, more and more I know that I am held, that I can cry out “Oh Papa,” and be comforted.

I think that something is growing in me. The Kingdom of Heaven is within you, among you, a mustard seed. It’s interesting because whatever that thing is that I feel growing, it’s definitely not the Bill mind. It’s like anti-matter to Bill matter, the other side of the equation. And it’s creating a remarkable sense of movement. Like the words of the spiritual “I’m going home on the morning train, I’m going home on the morning train; I’m going home on the moring train, if you don’t see me you’ll hear me singing.”

It’s the movement that’s real. “This train is bound for glory, this train.” It’s not the destination. Maybe we can’t imagine it. Maybe it doesn’t quite work that way. In the last of the Narnia books all the English children who have, over the years, visited Narnia, are all killed in a train wreck. We don’t know this till later. Hope this isn’t a spoiler for you if you haven’t read the book yet. Narnia is in a state of terminal catastrophe, and at the end of the book Aslan unmakes it, as he had made it, and the children and their Narnian friends pass through a portal, en route to Asland’s country. They meet all their old friends, some of them dead a thousand years in Narnian time, but it’s not static. There’s the ongoing call “Further up and further in!” There’s no stopping, no finality. It’s the wild unrestricted rush into God, not the arrival, that counts.

“Leaves Falling, Dead Men Calling”

Fall in the mountains. Some of this I see, some I think I maybe see, some I remember, and finally it’s hard to tell which is which. The flanks of the moutains are turning to gold. Towards evening they are deep violet and the air is a smoky lavender and smells of falling leaves. The nights are silent, the breath of the mountains inheld, waiting for the snow.

My heart should be rising up, I think, in preparation for the festival of Thanksgiving. Rather I think of myself buried among the leaves, slipping deep into sleep, the snow tucking me away for a long (forever?) sleep. Maybe I’m feeling the earth pulling the life force back into itself. Michaelmas has come and gone and there’s nothing left for it now but to sleep.

The saints’ days are markers of the old pagan year, the old understanding that our life was conditioned by the movements of the natural world. It’s interesting to say, and to think, that the Archangel Michael has slain the Luciferic dragon, and that the etheric energy of the earth, stretched out so far during the summer, now hurtles back into the earth like falling angels.

And it so nicely reflects the sorrow as blue twilights dissolve into winter darkness, the leaves fall, gardens are now just mounds of brown rubbish. Jesus said “I bring a sword,” and Evangelical Christianity is that, for sure. It has no time for the sweet melancholia of saints’ days. As Leonard Cohen wrote “The simple lives of heroes, and the twisted lives of saints, just confuse my little calendar, with their red and golden dates.”

Is it death itself that the Evangelicals have no time for? “You’re not going to die,” they say, so forcefully. “Get up and rejoice.” Sounds good, but catch them on a bad day, and they may be singing a different song. Leonard Cohen again “Oh you who must leave everything that you cannot control . . . . . . . when you’re not feeling holy your loneliness tells you you’ve sinned.”

Me, I feel like I’m dying. Is it the year that’s dying, is it depression, or is it true? Like the mountains, gold and violet, seen? imagined? rememembered? it doesn’t matter which. It’s okay to feel like, or to be, a falling leaf.