Michaelmas solace

Images of archangels have filled my Twitter feed today, along with invocations, especially to a somewhat warlike St Michael, for strength and protection. He certainly seemed to get the lion's share of prayer; maybe it has always been so, hence this feast's popular name of Michaelmas - or maybe we simply feel an ever greater need for protection in these dark, unstable times.

My attention was especially caught, though, by one image showing the meaning of each one's name. Michael - 'who is like God?' - was here depicted as some kind of battle cry, whereas Gabriel - 'strength of God' - was shown in a much softer, gentler mode. But I was especially surprised to be reminded that Raphael means 'God is healer' or 'God has healed - or even (as I saw in a later tweet) 'God's remedy'. And it struck me that there's no possessive pronoun in there: God is not 'my' healer; he's yours, mine, ours, universally so; God has not only healed me, his remedy is for everyone.

So in these names we are indeed reminded of divine strength, but a strength filled with tenderness and healing balm, poured out on us all. And who is like God? - this surely points us to Jesus, God's truest, most complete likeness, whose life was pure love and who could combine utter strength and divine healing in one simple gesture. We are reminded, too, of what we are called to be: God's likeness, reflecting an enduring, all-conquering power expressed in goodness and self-sacrifice, in healing and comfort.

We could all do with comfort and healing right now. Our news is dominated by the chaos of Brexit and government in-fighting, and continued hardship, heartache and xenophobia. And there's precious little solace or respite to be found in the news from elsewhere - especially the US - or in our Church. But just as we can entertain angels unawares, so solace waits to be found, often unexpected and in the unlikeliest of places.

Yesterday it came for me via a tweet by Harry Leslie Smith, a 95-year-old writer and campaigner. Born and brought up  in poverty, he recalls a time before welfare and the National Health Service, such that his TB-ridden sister had to be taken to workhouse to die, as their parents could not afford any form of healthcare. As a young man he served in World War II, then was part of the generation which sought to rebuild their shattered world along kinder, more compassionate and peaceful lines. He is still working at this, often warning us Don't let my past become your future. 

He has definitely seen the best and the worst of humanity, and what it can do. And yesterday, which was also the birthday of his son, who died several years ago, he was somehow able to tweet this message, full of hope and rejoicing and the perspicacity of nine decades of life, still being lived fully:

Make no mistake, no matter the heartache, the disappointments and the struggle; life is a joyful, wondrous experience. Even in these dark days of Donald Trump; you can take comfort that light always returns to humanity like daybreak at the end of night.

And you: who and where are your maybe unlikely angels, bringing God's healing and comfort, and the hope of light during these dark days...?