Entertaining Angels Unaware

November 20, 2007

Entertaining Angels Unaware

I have been thinking a lot about two phrases for the past three days.

“Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me.”  (Matthew 25:40)
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares". (Hebrews 13:2)

Yes, they’re both passages from the new testament, but I’m sure that in any texts of religious philosophy about the treatment of others I were to look at, the core message of regarding others with kindness, love, respect and dignity would shine through.  

I experienced this message first-hand last weekend down in Georgia, sharing two days of grief, anger, renewal and hope with almost 25,000 other people in front of the gates of Fort Benning.  For the 18th year, we went to call for the closing of the School of the Americas (now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation – WHINSEC).  Without taking up pages to explain why we were there, the short answer is that these 25,000, and many, many more around the world, believe that the people of Latin America have the right to be treated with kindness, love, respect and dignity.  They believe that the US government shouldn’t be training the military, military police and civilian police of Latin American countries to use torture, rape, kidnapping, murder and massacre as a way to control their people.  That the foreign policy interests of the US should not be upheld by armed soldiers destroying villages, killing men, women and children, and spreading a reign of terror among those peoples around the world who are not in the upper echelon of big business or government, all in the name of national security.  (For more information about last weekend and the work to close the SOA, please go to the School of the Americas Watch website)

My experience, however, wasn’t global.  While I was there to support a change that could affect the world over, the angels I speak of were personal.  Those incredible, in your face, I-love-you-even-if-you-don’t-know-who-I-am type of angels.  

I was on the stage, interpreting, and I started feeling poorly, lightheaded.  I was able to get the attention of my partner who raced back to switch with me so the interpretation could continue.  As I walked off the stage, I mentioned to someone that I didn’t feel well.  That’s all it took.  These phenomenal, loving strangers swept into action.  Lovely Elise brought me over to a chair, cooling my face and neck with water.  A man, whose name I later learned was Jean-Jacques, was immediately at my side with a soothing balm to massage into my arms, my neck, my face.  Another woman whose name I still do not know came to do the same, and to bring me healing energy.  Sandy, Jennie, Peggy and Laurie came to offer food, remedies and encouragement.   John, Pat, Holly, Tor, Anne and I’m sure about ten others came to offer a hug and a kind word.  They stayed with me, rubbed my back, let me sit quietly, sang to me, healed me with their loving kindness.  Me, a stranger.  I sat there being ministered to by those who I can only call angels.

Back out front, the speeches and songs recalled for the 25,000 the horror of atrocities done by a number of the graduates of the SOA.  Survivors of torture spoke out.  Mothers of children who were disappeared spoke out.  Family members of those who were murdered spoke out.  But through it all, there was the message of hope.  The message that if there are this many people in the world who say no to violence, torture, war and killing, that maybe there can be a change on the horizon.

The next day, we all walked together to the gates of Fort Benning and placed white crosses, with the names and ages of the victims of the atrocities, into the closest of the three barbed-wire topped fences that had been erected to keep us out.  All these strangers, carrying the names of strangers, coming together to remember, to memorialize, to mourn, and to carry away a sense of hope and renewal.  Together, we knew we could go forward and work for change.  We walked by each other as we processed to the gates, and all I could see was the goodness of these ordinary people.

And there it was again.  That palpable feeling of loving kindness, spread over a quarter-mile road filled with thousands of people.  This time it wasn’t a love for me, personally.  It was a love for humanity.  That in your face I-love-you-because-you’re-my-brother-and-sister, we’re-all-in-this-together type of thing that has nothing to do with singing “kum by yah” and has more to do with understanding that people are people are people.  We’re one of them, so whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves.

People are people are people, unless they’re angels.

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