The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.’”
Our eyes are not adapted to see human beings whole. We see them as individual, solitary creatures, when in fact they are surrounded by hosts of angelic beings. Sometimes, in moments of crisis, after illness, or before a great decision, we sense the helping presence of a being who sees our lives whole, helping us to see how everything that we experience – both our joys and challenges – gives us opportunities to develop our capacity to become true selves who give themselves in creative love. This being is our angel.
When we read the biographies of the great figures of history, we can experience what happens when human beings make themselves available for the archangel, the guiding spirit of their people. They might be leaders in times of national crisis, or people whose suffering has led them to see what is needed for the further development of their people. Such a person was Frederick Douglass, who was born a slave in the USA in the early nineteenth century and became a campaigner for the abolition of slavery.
On his travels in Europe, Douglass recognised that it was not enough to campaign against slavery in America: the condition of the poor in Ireland, and of women in all the countries he visited, moved him so deeply that he had to speak about these issues too.
When someone rises above the level of their personal concerns and connects them to the whole of humanity, we can sense that they have reached the level of the Time Spirit. This spirit helps us to work for the great forward-moving aims of humanity which are often achieved in bitter struggle.
In these days, we are witnessing how those angelic beings whose concern is human destinies and human affairs are working together. In the responses to the public health crisis and now in the wave of concern about the destinies of the victims of systemic oppression, we can sense how human beings are joining in the work of angelic beings to further the ends of true progress.
Beyond the sphere of the angelic beings who guide human affairs, there are the spirits who are at work in creation. When human beings align themselves to the purposes of creation, they allow those mighty spirits to work through them. On a level yet deeper and also higher are the spirits who sustain Being itself. Their whole being is taken up in the love of God and they let this love stream down through all the beings beneath them.
What we sense when we feel the gaze of our angel faithfully conveys the purposes of these loftiest beings: our lives, our history and our world all exist to create the opportunity for creatures to advance towards true selfhood, giving themselves in creative, self-forgetting love.
The vision that Jesus promises to Nathaniel is at once a distant prophecy and affirmation of what wants to be true for every human being. What we witness in the gospels is a life lived in alignment with the creative purpose of creation. This is our prototype and guide. When we meet each other as those who are striving for such alignment, we make it more likely that we will be able to achieve it, if only for moments.