Meetings with the Archangel by Stephen Mitchell. The angel, naked, tiptoes off, weary, content, maybe limping.

Meetings with the Archangel“To discover now, after twenty-two years of Zen training, that I was still susceptible to otherworldly visions …. Ah, well.”  The narrator has written a book, Against Angels, protesting all the popular attention given to angels in recent years, and rationally discussing the facts known about angels. Now, he sees an angel.

The fictional book has enough substance to have been worth writing. It contains a section with six pictures depicting a maturing understanding of angels. The chief theme is that angels are a projection of our spiritual selves; it is important to stop seeing angels.

1. Longing for the angel. The young man looks to the sky for angels, shading his eyes from the sun. He is open to possibilities but still thinks freedom belongs to somebody else.

2. Seeing the angel. The young man is kneeling and trembling. Perched on a rock, a fierce angel stares down at him. He has seen the angel, but the beauty makes him weak and confused.

3. Wrestling with the angel. The young man stands wrestling with the angel. The wingless angel strains but has a hint of a smile. “At last! He has come to grips with the essential point. There is neither heaven nor earth, holy nor unholy, just the mysterious other, bearing down on him with all its might. He has no choice now. It is not a question of victory or defeat. As long as he is grappled by an other, he is grappled by a self. And though he may not be aware of it in the midst of their sweaty embrace, the other wants nothing more than to be defeated.”

4. Letting go of the angel. The young man sits comfortably, gazing into the distance, holding a flute. The angel, naked, tiptoes off, weary, content, maybe limping. The struggle is over; he no longer remembers who won. The light of creation shines from him.

5. No angel, no self. Both angel and man have vanished. The angel is integrated; the man has no one left to confront. He has stopped looking inside or outside. “He has hung out a shingle on his front door that says, “Vacancy: come on in.”

6. Entering the marketplace with angelic hands. The young man is middle-aged, bearded, and smiling. He holds a basket of goodies for children. He has graduated from spiritual practice, from obligations, from enlightenment. He acts for pure pleasure, the benefit of all beings. But all beings are already saved. Open his basket, you will find as much or as little as you need.

Upon seeing the angel, he allows it to teach him angelic sex, and guide him on a tour of the heavens. He learns that the sorrow of humanity is a special thing, the opposite pole of the joy of the angels, a necessary experience to understand others, to truly have love and compassion. “You can love only where you enter.” It is for this reason that when angels meet humans the help they can offer is so limited. “Actually, our greatest service is to stand before you as clear mirrors. The compassion that a human may feel coming from us is his own mirrored compassion. The angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection.”

Nothing flakey about this book. It has survived many weedings of my book collection.