Angels Are Everywhere: On Tv, Books, Magazines

By Gustav Niebuhr 1997, N. Y. Times News Service | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 9, 1997 | Go to article overview

Angels Are Everywhere: On Tv, Books, Magazines


Gustav Niebuhr 1997, N. Y. Times News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


FASCINATION with angels has run at high tide in recent years, and there's little sign that it's letting up. One can read angel books, mail angel postcards, mark the days on angel calendars, attend workshops on guardian angels and, of course, tune in to the CBS dramatic series "Touched by an Angel" every Sunday night.

In part, this is a sign of the times, a feature of renewed interest in spiritual matters, an end-of-century trend that has also sparked publishing booms centered on saints, miracles and near-death experiences.

(The trend occasionally takes some esoteric detours, as in the case of the UFO-obsessed cult Heaven's Gate, which developed a science fiction-like cosmology in which extraterrestrials replaced angels.) Interest in angels draws on a deep well of tradition. In medieval times, Jewish and Christian writers composed elaborate commentaries on the subject. Joan of Arc said she had communicated with angels, as did the poet William Blake. King James I wrote a book on fallen angels and kept an official angelologist at his court. "Touched by an Angel" has won a large following by paying respects to tradition while steering a course within the bounds of contemporary nonsectarian interest. The show's angels, led by the wise Tess (Della Reese), appear to and disappear from human view, and speak of God with an intimacy that indicates clear knowledge of the divine. All this falls within the bounds of Scripture. So, too, does the fact that Tess and her associates can interact with humans while concealing their otherworldly nature. In Genesis, Abraham welcomes three angelic visitors to his tent without realizing who they are. The author of Hebrews 13:2, in the New Testament, warns, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware." But when they announce themselves, the angels on television speak more bluntly than their biblical counterparts often do - a trait perhaps explained by the fact that relatively few people today expect to meet visitors from heaven. "I'm an angel," Tess said, in one recent episode, speaking to a mildly startled middle-class couple. Her announcement served as a prelude to encouraging them to mend their ways, to be honest, not deceptive. The show lasts an hour; so, too, does the human-angel interaction. And therein lies another subtle but important difference between the Bible's angels and television's. In Scripture, angels tend to be beings of relatively few words. Nor do they linger. Also, as God's emissaries, they bear messages that in the specific circumstances are greater than any mortal (even a prophet) could communicate. …

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