Angels Unaware

Have you ever been visited by an angel?

My wife told me a story from a few years back.

She had been sitting in her car outside a CVS store near our apartment in Atlanta. She was on the phone for a long time, and in the process, her car’s battery died. When she tried to start the intrepid 4-cylinder Highlander, it would not start.

I’m not quite clear on the details., as she went inside to the store. The woman at the register heard her plight and volunteered to go outside, get the jumper cables that she had, and provide my wife a jump start. Turns out, this woman/s name was Angel.

That was at least three years ago.

We had moved to the island, living in my bliss for two years. My wife missed the classroom and has returned to the Schenck School. This necessitated a move back to the ATL and us to the same complex, in the shadow of the Braves stadium.

She was back at the same CVS the other day and saw Angel at the register.

She asked Angel if she remembered the prior event with the jumper cable, and she quickly said, “Of course!” adding her own account of the incident, as if another Synoptic account of a miracle. My wife thanked her again for her act of compassion and kindness toward a stranger. Cue the Publix Thanksgiving/Christmas music.

My point in telling this story is two-fold.

One, I would note the kindness of one person to another. It went beyond the conventional. Angel could have let my wife call her roadside assistance, remained in her safe role as an employee of CVS. Instead, she went beyond expectations and responded to my wife as if she were a friend, someone who is valued, someone who counts. In fact, in that small act, Angel recognized a stranger, someone she did not know, as a neighbor, and acted accordingly. It was not heroic. It was neighborly.

Two, I would note the gratitude of my wife, on a busy day, three years later, recognizing a person’s act, and taking the time to say “thank you”. Again, in normal roles, we just play the parts we are assigned, not going beyond expectations. The temptation to move routinely, safely, through the day is strong, and yet, she found the time to say “thank you” from across time. The exchange between these two persons, one a cashier doing her work, and the other, a teacher busy getting home from work, is remarkable.

This moment in time speaks to a basic connection we have with one another. It is often obscured by roles and routines, by press for efficiency, by fearfulness, or anxiety of the stranger. So many things can get in the way of such a simple and profound connection.

I point out this brief story of Angel and a person named Mary to make a simple point. Opportunities for neighborliness occur all the time, every day. I’m sure many of my readers instantly picked up on the name analogy that I was playing with in this story. No incarnational announcement, just a simple set of jumper cables, but the message of connection is profound. Reaching out, reaching across our individuality to connect.

We are heading into Thanksgiving week, some of us traveling, some of us staying put. Some will be with large extended families, some will be alone. Regardless of your circumstances, I invite you to tune your eyes to see opportunities to care for others, particularly strangers, people who may need help, and you just happen to be in the perfect position to reach out, to reach across and connect. You might be able to become an Angel to someone who needs just a little bit of extra care. What a gift that would be. What a gift you could be.

This Angel event reminded me of my grandmother who was quick to quote Holy Scripture to me when I was a child. I wish I had been asked to call her MeeMaw like Sheldon Cooper called his grandmother in Texas. I just got dealt the Georgia ordinary “Grandmother”. She was touted to be the best Bible teacher at Oakland City Baptist Church there near Ft. Mac, now Tyler Perry’s mammoth studio, speaking of Madea. To me, she was a three-syllable name, Grandmother, who showed me a lot of love….love that came with her godly advice.

A quote from Grandmother that I remember was an admonition from the New Testament book of Hebrews: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.” That’s the King James Version, resting of the promises that Jesus and God spoke Elizabethan English, don’t you know.

A more modern translation goes like this, translating from the Koine Greek, the actual language of the New Testament: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for by so doing, some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” This is clearly more approachable to the modern person, but the poet in me prefers the King James with the luscious “unaware”.

The point is the same. It’s to get you to be nice to strangers with the implicit promise that it might pay off for you later. It’s South of God karma, or as close as it gets. Be kind to strangers because some of those might just be angels sent down here to trick you. By being kind, you turn a trick into a treat. Instant karma.

I once got the courage to ask my grandmother if this was a way that God was trying to bribe us. Her mouth turned down at the corners, signaling me that she was not happy with me. I didn’t ask again.

Regardless to the potential bribe, it is a deeper spiritual truth that reminds us that all human beings are connected in their very being, and are deserving of care and to be treated with dignity. Jesus makes it plain: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. There’s a deft sleight of hand here: since we know you love your own damn self, you should extend that to your neighbor. It’s like the basic marching order of being a human being: love one another.

I’m just using Angel from CVS, who I have gone by to thank just this week, to remind us of the many opportunities that we have in our daily life to care for our neighbor in a gracious way, conveying our valuing of their being by noticing them and caring for them in a simple tangible way. Just for grins, train your eyes to look for those strangers who may come your way this day. Look for an opportunity to care, to extend hospitality.

And if you happen to be at a CVS on New Northside Drive, that person might turn out to be an Angel.

4 thoughts on “Angels Unaware

  1. Thanks David! And, an important reminder that we are both blessed by the presence of “angels” AND, from time to time, we can fill the role! Also a reminder that there is a strong connection between “Generosity” on the one hand and “Gratitude” on the other (usually starting with the latter).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your stories, David and somehow this one made me think go a song of my youth (as dr. in the musicology you know all the ins and outs of it):

    Maybe the sun’s light will be dim
    And it won’t matter anyhow
    If morning’s echo says we’ve sinned
    Well, it was what I wanted now
    And if we’re victims of the night
    I won’t be blinded by the light

    Just call me angel of the morning, angel
    Just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby
    Just call me angel of the morning, angel
    Then slowly turn away
    I won’t beg you to stay with me

    Through the tears
    Of the day
    Of the years

    And as you probably know Charlie’s (and my Belgian) company was named Synerchange, who was spelled by some of our friends and even relatives … Sinnerchange.

    A business many RC priests are in, don’t know how that is about the Episcopalian ones.

    Have a nice and fruitful week!


    1. Johan, thank you for the response.
      I remember the song, in traces…angel of the morning….sweet traces.
      You might take a look at Eddie Owen Presents to catch my friends, Banks and Shane’s farewell concert. I think it might be on Youtube….they streamed it.
      I stayed up most of the night watching the live feed from LA of Elton’s farewell. Typical over the top production but the genius shines. What a pair, Elton and Bernie. Elton had a condo near my Cathedral back in the late 80s and the Olympics. The live album 11-17-70 remains my favorite example of his spirit.
      Have a great week, my brother. Sinnerchange, indeed.


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