A Danyael story
Start at the beginning of the Danyael series
Two days passed before I thought about feeding the angel. It stayed on top of the television, only its head and crumpled wings moving. Daily, I would rise and go to work, carefully avoiding looking into the living room. In the evening I would return home and sit silently, staring at the angel in the dark. It never blinked, spoke, or even breathed that I could notice. It simply perched and observed.
On the evening of the second day as I sat in the dark my stomach growled. I'd been skipping lunch to avoid having to speak to any of the drones that tried to make casual conversation. I didn't think I could keep up a good front. In fact, I hadn't been eating much at all. I couldn't fathom trying to prepare dinner and eat with it watching me. Angels in the Bible come to deliver messages, or wrestle someone, or whisk someone away to Heaven. They don't STAY. Living there was like having a giant stone hovering over me, blocking out the light of the sun, always thinking it was going to come crashing down at any minute. Any tiny sound or motion could bring down destruction. So, I sat and did nothing, feeling incapable of motion. I almost wet myself a few times because I was terrified of getting up to use the bathroom. It seemed like a filthy mortal sin to even contemplate relieving myself in the presence of the Divine. I would have subjected myself to its Will if I could have figured out what in the Hell it actually wanted.
I tensed up at the noise my body made and held my breath, waiting for the wings to spread and a fiery sword to appear. When nothing happened, I relaxed, and realized how hungry I was. Then I started to wonder about the angel getting hungry. Maybe it had been waiting all this time for me to feed it.
I quietly got off of the couch and went into the kitchen. It didn't seem right to turn the fluorescents on, but I couldn't see in the dark, so I grabbed a candle from the bathroom and lit it. In the flickering light I tried to look through the cabinets and see if I had anything appropriate to feed an angel. While I'd exclaimed upon occasion that Kraft Mac 'n Cheese was the food of the gods, I'm pretty sure the angel did not work for the gods I'd been referring to. I opened the fridge briefly, but the harsh white light that spilled out burned at my eyes, and I closed it quickly. Before the door closed my eyes caught sight of the leftover turkey from Thanksgiving, and I had an idea.
I got out my cell phone and scrolled through the past numbers until I found the one I was looking for, then punched the number. After a few rings, a deep male voice answered. "Butterball Turkey Talk-line, how may I help you?" The Butterball Hotline was famous for being able to answer any question put to it. I'd called for their help in preparing the turkey a few weeks ago, and they took me from turkey neophyte to turkey expert in just a few minutes. I figured that they might know something about what to feed an angel.
"Uhhh..hi. Yeah. I'm trying to cook for a, um, a devoutly religious guest. Do you have any suggestions? I don't have a turkey." I wasn't really sure how kosher it was to ask non-turkey related questions, but figured it couldn't hurt. The voice at the end of the line made a slow thinking sound, a sort of "herrrmmmmmmmm".
"Well sir, I have always found that spaghetti is an excellent dish enjoyed by many of all religions. To my knowledge, no major group finds it offensive. It is also easy to cook. I would avoid garlic bread, however, as the after dinner conversation might be significant, and no one enjoys a garlic laden speech." The voice sounded confidant and pleasant, very reassuring. I felt myself relax a little bit, letting it sell me on the idea of cooking spaghetti for an angel. I answered "Oh, oh, yeah. Great! Thanks a bunch, man!" and then cut the call. I counted myself lucky that my roommates really liked spaghetti, so we were well stocked.
As the spaghetti cooked, I set the candle on the kitchen table and sat. I let the orange light flickering on the walls carry my eyes away from the present and began to wonder exactly what I should do after I fed the angel. I'd been ducking the issue for the last two days, unable to really wrap my brain around the reality of it. Somehow engaging in a normal act for the angel - making it dinner - had brought it into my world of flesh and bone. I was able to suddenly fit it into my worldview and start thinking about it.
I was in no way prepared to deal with an angel. I hadn't been to church in ten years, and synagogue for another five on top of that. I was raised as a Jew until I was 10, when my Dad suddenly decided that liking blintzes didn't mean that Jesus wasn't the Messiah. The sudden transition left me more than a little spiritually confused. Going from being guilted by earthly beings to being guilted by the divine was more than I could adjust to easily. After five years of Revival camp sing-a-longs and church basketball leagues, I decided that I just wanted to stop asking the question of which God was bigger and give up. So, I stopped going to church and put my menorah in a drawer and that was that. I just avoided the issue. Dad tried to get me to go back, but I just kept "oversleeping" until he gave up too. The entire question of religion just made me uncomfortable. I had a difficult time dealing with Mormon missionaries, much less an angel.
I heard the water in the pot begin boiling and got up to throw the spaghetti in as I contemplated what to do. I didn't think there was a hotline for THIS sort of thing. All of the television and comic books I'd read hadn't prepared me for what to do when an angel shows up and doesn't say anything. The only thing I could think of was an old episode of the X-files where Scully asks a Catholic priest about angels and nephilim. I'd never been Catholic, but I imagined there had to be a cathedral or something or the sort in town. As I drained the cooked spaghetti, I resolved to go and talk to a priest about everything.
When the spaghetti was ready in the strainer, I realized that I hadn't heated up any sauce, so went back to the refrigerator. I plucked out the Four Cheese sauce, and hoped that angels weren't lactose intolerant. I dumped some of the fresh smelling sauce into a pot and put it onto the burner. Having made up my mind, I didn't have a lot to think about while I waited for it to cook. I stood in the flickering candle light, facing the stove, not wanting to turn around and look into the black space of the living room where I knew it was waiting, watching me. So instead I just watched the red glow of the stove element and felt its heat on my face. The sauce eventually got hot enough, so I took the pot off of the stove and made up two plates. Then I grabbed the candle and the food, and went back into the living room.
I set the food down on the coffee table, and then the candle, and sat on the couch. Keeping my eyes focused on the candle, I said "I made you some food. It's spaghetti. I hope you like it." I waited, watching the flame flicker, afraid to touch my own food. A few minutes passed and nothing happened. I finally looked up at the angel. It still sat on top of the television, unmoving. Its head was tilted to one side like an owl, its long wispy hair hanging down over the cracked screen. The huge dark pits of eyes were focused on me, no expression on its face. "This is food. You haven't eaten, you must be hungry." There was still no response. I picked up the angel's plate. "Food?" It blinked once.
I got up and carried the plate to the angel. "Here. It's good. " The angel shifted its gaze to the food, then back to me. I raised the plate up to the angel's face, letting it smell the pasta. It tilted its head slowly in the other direction, swiveling it over and around the plate until it was facing directly down at the spaghetti. Slowly and gently a dark tongue protruded from its mouth. The tongue waggled a bit, and the angel lowered its head until the tip of the tongue touched the spaghetti. It stayed there for a moment, and then jerked back, rustling its wings for balance. Its face wrinkled into an expression of distaste, and it let out a small mewl as its left wing banged against the wall. "Ok, you don't like spaghetti. Umm...I need to eat though. I'm sorry."
I sat back down on the couch and finally began to eat. The pasta was spiced with hunger, and I devoured it, constantly conscious of the gaze of the angel upon me. I wondered if it wanted something else, but resolved that if it did it would need to tell me. I was willing to cook for a servant of the Almighty, but it needed to read the menu and make a choice. After a few mouthfuls of spaghetti I realized that I was slurping the noodles up into my mouth, winding up the long strands partly on my fork and then just chewing and sucking my way through the rest of the noodles. Bits of parmesan cheese and sauce flaked off of my lips as I ate, and my fork scraped against the plate. I was suddenly seized by shame at my earthly needs and animalistic behavior. I stopped eating and put down my fork, letting quiet return to the room. I quietly wiped my mouth off with my hand and said "Sorry."
I got up and went back into the kitchen and got a knife. I cut the rest of the spaghetti up into more easily consumed bites. It's a real pain to try and catch short bits of spaghetti on a fork, but I didn't feel as though I had a lot of choice. I just couldn't bear the thought of stuffing my face like a greedy pig under the unbroken stare of the angel. When I finished I stared at the dirty plate and felt shame that I required food to survive at all. Every instance of mortal need seemed a failing on my part. Every ache in my body, the need to physically touch objects and interact with the world, the need to eat and drink . . . They all seemed to taint me in the face of a Heavenly being. I never imagined TOUCHING anything in Heaven. I'd never specifically thought about it, but I always sort of felt that the need to touch would be removed in the perfection of God's presence. That I would just sort of float and bathe in happiness and goodness or something. I shifted around on the couch a bit and felt uncomfortable.
I looked up at the angel and tried to figure out what it wanted. The candle flickered, casting the immense shadow of wings on the wall. The dark wings were an absence of light, and stretched around the corners of the room to encompass me. I asked, "What do you want?" The angel gave no response, and after a minute, I got up to wash the dishes and put the food away.
For the next few days I looked around for a Catholic church in town. On my lunch breaks I'd drive to the library near the office and hop on the internet to look around. It only took me a few minutes to find a list of the churches, but I wanted to be sure I was going to the right one. I carefully looked up each church and did research about it, to see if any of the priests had been involved in anything grim. An adolescence in the 90's taught me that all Catholic priests are inevitably molesting altar boys. I know that's a ridiculous generalization, but when I was looking for a good church, I was paranoid. I finally settled on the Sacred Heart of Jesus downtown. It was a small parish, but I figured if they couldn't help me, they'd be able to point me in the right direction. I called ahead and made an appointment for the upcoming Saturday with a Father Buchanon.
The remained of the time I spent debating whether or not to bring the angel with me. I didn't want to bang its wings again while trying to get it into my car, but I also didn't want to go to a church and leave it behind. I actually got out my tape measure at one point and measured its splinted wingspan to determine if it would even fit in my car. The entire time it swiveled its head to look at me as I fiddled with the tool. I accidentally brushed against its skin with the metal once and it let out a soft hiss. It wasn't the same noise it made from pain, but rather a simple acknowledgement of the contact. When it did that I put the tape measure away.
I ended up taking a socket wrench and spending a few hours Friday night removing the passenger seat from my car. I've never been much good with my hands, so figuring that out was a pain. I stripped one of the bolts and had to eventually just drill it out. I put a hole in my floorboard accidentally, but it was small. I still hadn't gotten a chance to fix my rear windshield, so I had to go to Home Depot and get some clear plastic to stretch over it, after knocking the rest of the glass out. I swept the glass over to the side of the driveway and tossed the passenger seat on top of it. I guess I planned to somehow put it back in later. I'm not really sure, I didn't really think it out too well.
When Saturday rolled around, I went into the living room and began to seriously question my decision to bring the angel along. When I had touched it before, it had been out of immediate necessity. I didn't really think about it, I just did it. This time I'd had half a week to let the idea of making physical contact with it stir up my anxiety. The thought of picking it up, feeling its wispy, greasy hair on my neck, its clammy skin on my arms . . . it was almost too much to take.
Seeing it in the sunlight filled room didn't do much to relieve my tension. I could see bruises all over its body, apparently from its fall. They were fading to a dull yellow. The angel's ribs showed clearly through the skin stretched across its midriff. Crouched on the TV, I couldn't help but notice that where its . . . bits should be, there was only more dull grayish skin. I checked the splints I had fashioned, and they seemed to still be holding. The makeshift bandages I'd wrapped around the wings were stained a dull blackish brown. I thought that maybe I should change them, but I didn't really know how. I just hoped angel's couldn't get infections.
Standing in front of the angel, I felt a sour pain in my stomach. I felt as though I needed to vomit up my own earthly stains to be pure enough to touch the angel. But at the same time, I felt as though touching this haggard and dirty thing would stain ME with something I couldn't clean. I stood paralyzed for a few moments, afraid of acting. Nevertheless, I had made a decision, and standing under the gaze of the angel I somehow KNEW that it wanted me to bring it along.
I reached up and put my hand on its shoulder, intending to swing it into another fireman's carry. The angel leaned away from my hand, and reached its spindly arm out to casually push my shoulder. The strength of the thing was unbelievable. It nearly spun me around with a seemingly gentle push. I staged back a step and looked at it, trying to figure out what it wanted. It held both arms out, slightly above its head and hissed. "You want me to carry you? How?" Again the hiss. "Uhhh...ok." I stepped back toward it, and again it pushed at my shoulder, spinning me completely this time.
As my back turned toward it, the angel reached out its other arm and wrapped it around my neck, launching itself from the television to my back. I staggered forward, catching myself on the couch. I could feel the angel's legs scrabbling against me until it wrapping them around my waist, squeezing like a vice. After a moment I regained my balance and stood straight up. The angel's body weighted almost nothing – it was all whipcord and bone. The wings though, seemed to be made of lead. I could feel them weighing me down and overbalancing me. I had to hunch over in order to remain standing. I didn't remember them being so heavy when I carried it to and from my car the first time.
After some careful maneuvering, I got the angel out of the house and to the car. I popped the hatch again, and knelt down so the angel could crawl from my back into the car. It pulled its way forward across the back seat, which I had put down earlier, to lay face down in the empty spot where my passenger seat had been. Its wings filled the entire right side of the car. I got in and prayed that I wouldn't be pulled over.
I actually had more trouble finding parking downtown than I did in driving over. No one looked twice at the huge wings poking up on the passenger side of the car. I had to circle the block around the church seven times before a space finally opened up. By the time I parked I was so frustrated I could was nearly spitting. I bit my tongue to avoid unleashing a litany of curses at poorly thought out city planning.
When I was finally parked, I got out and fed the meter, then went around and popped the hatch. I knelt down, and the angel slowly wriggled its way out until it could wrap its arms around my neck again. I had to grab the edge of the car to pull myself up to my feet. I closed the hatch and staggered a bit in my first few steps down the street, until I adjusted to the extra weight I carried.
The church was a fairly small building, nothing like the giant cathedral movies and TV had prepared me for. It looked fairly modern from the outside, a roundish brick building with lots of tinted windows. The top of the building was circled with stained glass portraits depicting religious figures. One of them showed an indistinct figure with a halo over its head hovering over a cradle. I stared at it for a moment before going inside. The interior of the building was freshly lit. The scent of sweet candles filled a large circular room filled with cushioned pews, set up like an amphitheatre with a pulpit at the far end. A pair of booths stood in the corner of the room, for confession I guess. Now, when I crossed the threshold into the building carrying the angel, I expected something to happen. The door to transform into a great golden gate, or the rest of the Heavenly Host to descend and reclaim their lost member. The only thing that happened was a draft of warm air as the heating ducts kicked on when I opened the door.
As I entered, a portly man dressed in priestly black and collar hopped down from the pulpit and walked over to me. He had a doughy face and a lazy eye, but everything else about him was neat as a pin, perhaps in compensation for nature. His silvered hair was perfectly parted on one side, each tract of hair aligned parallel to the ones next to it. He held out his hand as he approached. "Hello, I'm Father Buchanon. You must be the gentleman that called to see me?"
I was taken aback a bit by his forwardness. I hadn't really expected a Catholic priest to be jovial and friendly. Actually I'm not really sure what I expected. Not this. I shook his hand awkwardly, shifting a bit under the angel's weight. "Uhhh...yeah. I just - I have some, um, questions for you, if you don't mind. I appreciate your time." He smiled at me and gestured to a nearby pew. I walked over and put my hands against the sideboard of the pew's end. It was easier to keep my balance, and I didn't want to put the angel down to take a seat. Father Buchanon took a seat and crossed his legs at the ankle.
"So, what questions can I answer for you today?" His smile seemed so honest and easygoing that I found it difficult to look at him. I have a tough time dealing with people that are confidant in themselves. "Are you interested in Catholicism? We have several excellent introductory classes that run in the evenings." His foot tapped out a rhythm on the top of his other shoe has he spoke.
"No, no. I mean, um, I'm sure Catholicism is great and all. I'm just here to ask about, errrr, well, angels. I'd like to know about angels."
"Angels?" His eyebrows raised a bit. "Why do you want to know about angels?" I stammered, looking away. I was afraid to lie, but not sure what to say. After minute, he finally said "Well, it doesn't matter. What do you want to know?"
"Well, sir, I don't really know much about them. What do they do? What purpose do they serve? What do they want from people they show themselves to?" I flexed my legs a bit as they began to stiffen. My back was beginning to ache from being hunched over.
"What do they want? Well, in the most simplistic sense, angels are the servants of God. They were created to serve his will, from the Seraphim closest to the Heavenly Throne, to the Grigori left on Earth to watch over man. They exist only as extensions of His Will, without Will of their own. That was the Almighty's gift unto man – free will and choice. No angel has that. So, what they do is what God wants them to do. Mostly deliver messages. That and destroy. That's their main function in the Bible. To deliver good news and warnings, and to destroy those who had sinned against God so much there was no hope for redemption. Of course, that was before the new Covenant was formed and He sent his Only Begotten Son to die for us. Son, why are you asking this? Do you think you've seen an angel?" The priest uncrossed his ankles and leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together in front of him.
I looked away again. "Um, I know someone who thinks they have. I dunno. I mean. Is this for real? Do YOU really believe in this stuff?" The priest's smile was gone. Instead he looked more concerned.
"Do I believe in angels? You might say that, yes, I do believe in angels as functions of God's Will. I don't necessarily believe that they took the form of a big blond man with wings. For example, the angel that gave Ezekiel his visions was described as a series of spinning concentric flaming wheels. Whatever metaphor our mind chooses to use to see the emanations of God in our world, I believe those are angels. So, yes, I believe." He furrowed his brow as he looked at me. I replied with another question, "So, uh, if someone saw an angel today, what do you think the reason would be? What do you think it would want?"
The priest stood up and clasped his hands behind his back. "Son, I think that many of your questions can be answered by reading the Bible, and regular attendance at mass. Now, you obviously have a lot of questions and are feeling confused. Don't be ashamed of that, and don't think that we're just here to offer some simple answers. A lot of people these days seem to think that going to church is just an opiate for the masses, to borrow a famous phrase. That's not really what we offer though. What we offer is help in steering your way through the shoals of doubt and despair that fill our lives. We can't tell you what's right or wrong, or convince you to believe something you don't think is true. What we offer is to work with you to find the truth that you already know in your heart. I think you could benefit from some of that help, and I would be happy to provide it."
I took a step back and turned toward the entrance. Nothing had happened when I came in, and the priest wasn't telling me anything I found helpful. Suddenly I just wanted to leave. I swayed under the weight of the angel as I turned, taking a quick step to catch my balance. "Ummm..thanks. Thanks. Yeah, I'll think about it. I don't want to take up anymore of your time. Thanks!" I thumped quickly toward the exit, my steps weighted down by broken wings.
"Son." Father Buchanon called after me. "Angels always came to deliver messages because God wanted someone to DO something. So if your friend is seeing an angel, God must have something in mind for them, some kind of mission. You should tell them to come to mass to help understand what they're going through. When someone sees an angel, it means either toil or death. Toil or death." His words echoed through the room, following me out as I fled into the cold winter air.
When I started my car to go home, the angel was looking up at me from its position on the floor. It blinked once, slowly. "What do you want from me? What kind of mission? Am I the one you were even looking for?" It blinked again. I put the car in gear and pulled out onto the road. As I stepped on the pedal to take us home, the angel spoke. Its soft, reedy voice barely carried over the sound of the heater.
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2009