How to see angels: They are nearer than we think by Mark Vernon for Christian Today
Angels are popular. Many people believe in them and, for a supposedly secular age, a surprising number of individuals have seen them. They’re even present to about seven per cent of those who don’t believe in God, according to research from the Theos think tank.
This situation is the springboard for the new book by the Catholic writer and journalist Peter Stanford. He’s interested in the parts of religious experience and spiritual life that thrive when institutional forms of church, temple and synagogue struggle. Angels are a prime case in point.
He also became interested in angels after interviewing Lorna Byrne, the Irish angel seer and, now, hugely successful author. I have spoken with her, too, and I understand the fascination with angels meeting her provokes.
As we talked, I could see her glancing up, looking over my shoulder. ‘Can you see my guardian angel?’ I asked. ‘Oh yes,’ she said. ‘I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have a guardian angel. It would be very disturbing if I did.’ I came away feeling she was indeed seeing something.
That she might see angels seemed right when I made a link with my work as a psychotherapist. As I read Byrne’s books, I noticed that most of the angels she sees, who are guardian angels, convey to her something of the inner life of their charges. They tell of a hidden side that may be agitated or panicked or withdrawn.
In psychotherapy, felt ways of listening are used to gain insights into someone’s inner life that otherwise fall below the level of awareness. One person might say they’re fine, and yet make a psychotherapist feel edgy. Another might be full of anger, but create an air of sadness.
In the jargon, it’s called the countertransference. Over time, I’ve learnt to trust it. The feelings suggest different ways of addressing the problems people face, often transforming the problems into opportunities for growth.
So my question for Byrne was whether what I tentatively feel, she plainly sees? Might she have a kind of synesthesia for inner life that shows up as the presences called angels?
My question is not to dismiss angels as some kind of psychological projection or neurological mistake. In the premodern world, towering intellectual figures such as Thomas Aquinas wrote lengthy angelologies. Peter Stanford describes them very well.
The assumption the theologians made was that the universe does not run on mechanical energies and forces, as modern physics assumes. They felt that it was full of the dynamism, desires and intelligence that many nowadays imagine to exist only inside their heads. That wider cosmic vitality was the humming activity of the angels.