Last night, I had a dream. A dream about Maya Angelou. Anyone who knows me knows that Maya Angelou was a model of inspiration to me. I have been deeply influenced by her poetry, her prose, her life. One of the hardest moments of this year for me and for the world was when she passed away. I only met her once in my life and it was a life changing encounter, one that I count as a very precious memory. Well no, I am mistaken. I have only met her once in her life because last night she came to visit me.
In my dream, I was sitting in a room waiting for something. I was feeling very anxious, worried, and stressed -feelings, I confess, that have been my close companions lately. She walked into the room and she sat down next to me. I was so excited to see her. I wanted to tell her about my writing that she had inspired. I wanted to tell her how I have memorized all of her poetry, all of her words. Interestingly, I never got the opportunity because she did all the talking. And she didn’t say anything extraordinarily profound either. She just chatted with me, showed me little trinkets and valuables that she always carried with her in her purse. She just spent time with me, talking of nothing and everything the way that old friends do.
When I woke up this morning, I knew that something divine had happened. The Christmas story is one that I have been reading, and telling, and preaching again and again this season. This story is marked by the dreams, visions, and visitations of angels to Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, the Wise Men. I ask myself, why do we not hear of this anymore? Did God stop sending angels to visit us after the Bible was bound and disseminated to the masses? Certainly not. History is full of believers who share accounts of angels appearing to them, speaking to them, and visiting with them. Anthony the Great, the father of all Monks, reportedly had visitations from angels and demons with regularity. He said that sometimes the angels were hideous and scary (perhaps that’s why in Bible whenever someone saw an angel they were said to be terrified) and the demons were attractive and alluring. He was asked how he could discern, then, from the angels and the demons. He replied, “You can only know the difference between an angel and a demon by how you feel after they have left you.” I woke up this morning feeling, for the first time in a very busy and hectic season, entirely at peace. I woke up this morning free from anxiety. I woke up this morning certain that I had been visited by an angel.
When I was a child, I once frightened my mother when I told her about my memories of my grandmother.
“You don’t have any memories of you grandmother,” she said, “Your grandmother died before you were born.”
“She has spent time with me. She came to me.” I replied, completely unmoved by her comment because I was still too young to understand the implications of death. I began to describe her in great detail and my mother was quite shaken by my account. I was certain that I had been visited by an angel.
It isn’t unusual for children to say such things, reality and fantasy are still fluid in their young minds. Or maybe children experience divine moments or what the Celtics call “thin places” because they are so receptive to the world around them, all of its mysteries and curiosities. Perhaps children experience divine moments because they are always paying such close attention. Perhaps that’s what Jesus meant when he said,
“Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 18:2).
Perhaps it is a call for us to be receptive to the many many many ways that God is trying to catch our attention, communicate, and comfort us. Or perhaps I am just a minister slipping into mysticism or better yet… insanity. But I stand in good company with Mary, Joseph, a couple of Shepherd boys watching their flock by night, and a whole host of other holy weirdos when I say, “an angel of the Lord has visited me.” And in 2015, I vow to be more receptive to the curiosities, the mysteries, the awesomeness of God. I’m going to pay close attention. I’m going to walk in thin places, getting near unto the Kingdom… just like a child.