How my guardian angel distracted me
I am easily distracted in prayer. This hardly makes me unique — even many of the great saints confessed to this struggle, so at least I am in good company. Different things will pop up to derail me. Sometimes the events of the day intrude. Other times it’s tomorrow’s worries that barge in. Many times, though, I start to wonder about the words I am praying. Those classic prayers often can just wash over me, but occasionally something in them grabs hold of me, pressing for further attention.
I’ll wonder things like, “Why would we pray ‘lead us not into temptation’? Would God even do that in the first place?” Since I was a graduate student in theology and philosophy, my tendency in those moments is to drop my prayer and pick up a book, hoping to find an answer. And while you might think the answers I’d find would be as dry as the cracked binding on my book, quite often instead they lead to illuminating insights.
Here’s a recent one: Have you ever wondered when you pray for your guardian angel to “ever be at my side,” just how that works? With us, since we’re composed of both body and soul, we are “at” whatever place our bodies are. If my body is in California, then I’m in California, and not Idaho, Guam, or Poland. But angels don’t have bodies. They don’t take up or occupy space. They’re pure spirits. How can an angel be anywhere, let alone “at my side”? Is this just a pleasant thought, a stroke of sentimentality?
While doing research for a paper one day, I discovered I wasn’t the only one with this question. The medieval philosophers and theologians wondered about this, too. So they studied, thought, discussed, and reasoned it out. Their line of thinking went something like this: Angels are spirits, which means they are essentially beings of intellect and a will — that is, they can think and they can choose. So, even though they don’t have bodies that can move from place to place, they have intellects and wills that “move” when they think about certain things and will certain things. That includes willing another person’s good — in other words, loving them. Thus, they concluded, an angel is wherever the thing is that the angel is thinking about or loving.
This leads us to a conclusion that should fill our hearts with wonder and gratitude. If an angel is said to be near whatever it is thinking about and loving, and our guardian angel “walks beside” us, that means that our guardian angel is constantly thinking about us, constantly loving us, constantly working for our good. Creatures of almost unimaginable power and beauty have been given as their mission and purpose the care and protection of us fragile and fallible things, and they never waver in that duty. Pure spirits standing watch over the dust of the earth. It seems almost backward.
Yet this is God’s way, isn’t it? To raise the lowly and humble the mighty, as Mary says in her Magnificat (see Luke 1:46-55). We see it as a pattern throughout salvation history. David the shepherd boy is made king over Israel. Saul the great persecutor becomes Paul the great missionary. The eternal and infinite God takes on the nature of a limited and finite human being. Rather than coming as a wealthy nobleman in a stately palace, Jesus is born as a carpenter’s son in a cold and dark stable. Instead of conquering the people’s enemies and making himself a king, Jesus is handed over to the authorities and executed as a criminal. And rather than death having the final word, Jesus is raised to new life, and our sins are forgiven in him. Angels of heaven serving men and women on earth merely follows the divine playbook.
All of this came from a fresh curiosity over a prayer I’d known since I was a child. Why did that line suddenly beg for my attention? I think it was an invitation from the Spirit to go deeper: “Follow me; I have something to show you.” Or perhaps it was a nudge from my guardian angel, saying like the Ghost of Christmas Present: “Come in and know me better, man!” It’s given me a greater appreciation for the gift of my guardian angel and an awareness of one more way God loves us. Sometimes detours bring us home. Sometimes we end up on the scenic route and see something new and beautiful. Sometimes distractions take us where we need to go.
So pay attention to those random thoughts in prayer. You never know where a tangent and an old book might take you.