Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Question for Valentine’s Day: How do Angels Make Love?

As St. Valentine’s Day draws near, one wonders what would happen if one of those angelic cherub archers were to shoot an arrow into an angel’s heart. Do angels make love? And if so, how?

In fact, the blind Puritan poet John Milton had Adam asking this potentially touchy question of his mentor, the archangel Gabriel, in the Garden of Eden. In the poem Paradise Lost, Gabriel blushed and smiled before explaining the angelic facts of life over supper to the innocent legendary first man and woman. “Easier than air with air, if spirits embrace, / Total they mix, union of pure with pure / Desiring,” Milton wrote. Was Milton saying that angels are making whoopee? The famous British Christian writer C. S. Lewis didn’t think so, according to philosophy professor Geddes MacGregor.  Lewis suggested that Milton’s angels were not being sexually lustful when they intermingled their airy essences. Rather, their lovemaking was a complete spiritual bonding that transcended sexuality. MacGregor quoted Lewis as saying that an angelic act of love is “the satisfaction of love itself, not of appetite.” In his book Angels: Ministers of Grace, MacGregor went on to say that mature humans also have the ability to “engage in a spiritual fusion where spirit and spirit entwine in a love which, rooted though it is in sexuality, leaps beyond into a realm unimpeded by our kind of corporeality.”

The subject of angel love-making brings up another question: do angels even have gender? As a matter of fact, in traditional Judeo-Christian theology, the prevailing viewpoint has been that angels are not split into males and females. Rather, medieval philosophers usually thought of angels as sexless – or in their phrasing “androgynous.” In other words, a perfect combination of male and female sexuality.

This idea probably arose because of a comment attributed to Jesus when he was asked about marriage in heaven. Jesus replied in the gospels that the dead do not marry, because they act “like the angels.”

To symbolize this total blending of maleness and femaleness in an angel, artists have often portrayed angels as effeminate men. Other artists have shown angels as exclusively female, since females are identified with the cosmos’s nurturing, mystical and intuitive side, what the Taoists call the “yin” or “female” principle in nature. This principle stands in opposition to the “yang” or male side of the universe, which represents the rational, physical world.  No wonder then that angels are rarely shown in art as rugged he-men.

In the final analysis, maybe the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth makes the safest observation: “What know we of the Blest Above, but that they sing, and that they love?”

Love, the cement of the universe and often compared to gravity in physics, shatters the illusion of separateness, so that we can feel the warm Unity that hides behind the outer world of differences. Like white light broken into colors by a prism, love transmutes into a spectrum of related sub-emotions such as compassion, empathy and pity.

What we do know is that the higher that humans evolve, the more spiritually loving they seem to become. And, in fact, advanced spiritual “beings of light” reportedly encountered by dying mortals in their near-death experiences are routinely described as overwhelmingly loving and compassionate. Mystics and saints through the ages have provided similar accounts in reporting their visions of angels.

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