Modern-Day Angel Encounters – With or Without Wings. (Angel Encounters Mini Series: Part 1)

What does a modern day angel look like?

Michael Sheen as the angel Aziraphale in 'Good Omens' by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
Michael Sheen as the angel Aziraphale in ‘Good Omens’ by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

Like the fussy angel played by Michael Sheen in the deliciously funny and clever ‘Good Omens’ by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett?

More, perhaps like this angel depicted by Vincent Van Gogh? 

Half-Figure of an Angel, After Rembrandt – by Vincent Van Gogh

or maybe like the powerful and moving Knife Angel that appeared at Coventry Cathedral in 2019?

The Knife Angel at Coventry Cathedral

 

Or perhaps even, the guardian angel Clarence.

guardian-angel-clarence-from-its-a-wonderful-lifeI

We met him in the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life.

In the TV sitcom Rev, the main character Adam Smallbone (played by Tom Hollander) reaches a point where he has been betrayed, lost his church, his self-respect, and his vocation, and feels he has failed all those who believed in and depended on him.

In a state of despair, he goes up a hill carrying the cross intended for the Easter Sunday service. At the top of the hill he meets a homeless man (played by Liam Neeson) who dances and sings with him, knows and understands what’s going on for him, and offers consolation and hope. He transforms how Adam feels about his situation. Then he disappears.

This kind of encounter takes on the shape of what I would call an angel encounter.

This I would define as:  a situation where you are in personal crisis of some kind, and you are helped in a timely manner by a person who appears unexpectedly, transforms your situation, and then disappears quietly. Throughout the encounter, this stranger seems surrounded by an aura of graciousness, gentleness and kindness.

I’m starting a new series of occasional posts here on my blog, entitled:

Angel Encounters.

I know many people hold on to belief in angels  – whether they be guardians, guides, or  protectors – even in this supposedly secular, materialistic society in which we live here in the UK.

In 2019 I attended an author talk as part of the Warwick Words History Festival, held in the church of St Mary Magdalene in Warwick. Author Peter Stanford spoke about his latest book Angels: A Visible and Invisible History 

In this book Peter Stanford gives a history of humankind’s belief in angels, beginning long before the historical origins of the Christian faith, and continuing right up to the present day, with the interest in angels ever popular through folk religion and other spiritual outlooks.

Peter Stanford uncovers much intriguing material, and also includes an examination of the appearance of angels in great art. Throughout he maintains an objective, academic approach which he combines with his own views.

Today, many of those who believe in angels see them as ‘independent agents’, outside traditional faith structures.

As Stanford says, People have… believed in angels for millennia… the only difference today is that this reliance on angels as dwellers in time and space is happening outside of organised religion… Angels once… largely belonged in religious narratives and institutions… but… have somehow detached themselves from the declining institutions and are now thriving on their own.

At the end of the book Stanford remarks: I have lost count while researching and writing the book of how many times I have been asked if I “believe” in angels. 

Many other authors too have written on the subject of angels, from a wide variety of viewpoints. A popular author on the subject is Theresa Cheung and I blogged about her book Angel On My Shoulder  on 28 February 2017 

The book is full of authentic first-person accounts. Several things fascinated me about these:

1) I could identify with a number of them from my own experience, though I’ve tended to think of them as synchronicity;
2) Each one had a distinct element of the supernatural;
3) Far than being sentimental, they all demonstrate strength and simplicity.

Several describe sudden and shocking bereavement. In each case the narrator of the story has experienced a compelling supernatural intervention which has totally changed their attitude to the tragedy and to death itself, and has provided the sort of comfort and reassurance that others might achieve only through long-term counselling or psychotherapy.

The author’s stance in relating the stories is measured and balanced. She fully accepts those who take a “reductionist” view of these events and prefer a rational explanation, and she invites us to make up our own minds.

I found the whole book very convincing, not least because of the cumulative effect of so many testimonies from different people unknown to each other, who have all had similar experiences. It had the same effect upon me as another book I’ve reviewed called Miracles by Eric Metaxas.

In her summing up, Teresa Cheung refers to organised religion no longer providing the structure and certainty that it used to (maybe because so many feel it doesn’t meet their needs, and appears irrelevant to their lives). The stories in this book suggest, to one way of thinking, that many may be connecting with “the divine” totally outside the confines of “church” – through angels.

This, interestingly, is the same conclusion that Peter Stanford comes to.

In this occasional series on my blog, I’ll consider modern-day angel encounters.

Next week I’ll start this off with my own story describing an experience which took place several years ago.

What do you think? Do you believe you have a guardian angel?  Have you a story of an “angel encounter”? Do share in the comments below.

Guardian Angel Clarence (played by Henry Travers) with George Bailey (played by James Stewart), in the 1946 movie It’s a Wonderful Life

 

Hattton Locks, Warwick: The Stairway to Heaven

I have long felt that canals are like a parallel world, a shining ribbon running through our towns and countryside, often hidden from us by lush greenery.  Hatton Locks image 2All the haste and anxiety and stress of our frantic, driven lives seems to melt away for those climbing the steps down to, walking alongside, boating on, or standing gazing at the canals of our country. And where better to experience this world apart than at Hatton Locks, Warwick, on the Grand Union Canal; very close to the famous flight of locks which raise the water level by 45 metres via a flight of 21 locks known as the stairway to heaven.

Hatton Locks image 1The magic of canals is such that I find the peacefulness and enchantment and wonder tends to steal into people without any conscious awareness. Within a dreamlike atmosphere, people of all ages come to gaze, mesmerized, at the locks, at the boats moving through them, and at the radiant colours of the paintwork and the folk art of decorated boats and flower pots, seeming to denote a simpler, more contented, more innocent world; and at the names of the boats, sometimes quirky, sometimes affectionate and amusing, often playful, and always evoking for the boats personalities of their own.

Hatton locks image 3When I gaze at the canal, it seems to me as if I am in another dimension. We are so used to planning our next move according to the routes taken by roads, the A roads and B roads and motorways, that we carry around with us an internal map that penetrates our concept of the country we live in and even the mental world we inhabit. But, if we come apart just a little way from our established route, we will find the canal, a secret ribbon running through the towns and the landscape, from Birmingham through Hatton then on, all the way to Little Venice, Maida Vale via Regents Park in London, close by London Zoo.

photo0078And among the loveliest aspects of our country we find the waterside inns with their beer gardens, their tables and chairs and sunshades set out beside the canal, offering a highly-prized setting for a meal or a drink, in summer becoming, of course, sometimes too popular. We have outstanding inns along the canal in Warwick, The Cape of Good Hope and The Hatton Arms being my favourites.

 

How to get there:

The Heritage Skills Centre, Canal Lane, Hatton, Warwick, CV35 7JL

Find out more:

http://www.canalrivertrust.org.uk

Spring is Starting to Win… at Baddesley Clinton

A few photos from Baddesley Clinton, one of my favourite National Trust properties, a short drive from my home in Warwick.

Folk Festival Fun for Warwick

This weekend Warwick hosted its annual Folk Festival.

Morris Dancers (photo credit Abigail Robinson)
Morris Dancers (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

Folk dancers and singers were out in force together with a wide variety of creative stallholders and vendors, and everywhere we saw bright coloured clothes and gypsy-style skirts and hats decorated with flowers.

In common with many others I love to watch to listen to folk songs and watch folk dancing; it strengthens our sense of community and connects us with our traditions and our agrarian culture of centuries ago.

Mummers (photo credit Abigail Robinson)
Mummers (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

There is always a tendency to idealize life in Britain before the industrial revolution, when those in the country villages practised all sorts of traditional customs, many related to our superstitious beliefs of the past.

And yet folk memory is strong within us, and it can never be eradicated. It reappears in so many ways in our contemporary lives; in lingering folk religion and folklore, in our language, and in our actions, whether conscious or unconscious.

I love to watch the mummers and the morris dancers, and to see their eccentric costumes and the vigorous, energetic dances.

 

dancers at the Warwick Folk Festival (photo credit Abigail Robinson)
dancers at the Warwick Folk Festival (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

 

This is a part of English society that we can well celebrate, long into the future.

 

Bruce Knight conducts the Warwick Folk Festival
Bruce Knight conducts the Warwick Folk Festival Choir (formed 6 weeks before the festival)

 

Guys Cliffe House, Romantic Ruin in a Dreamlike State, Awaiting New Life

What could be more poignant than a formerly grand mansion, standing on a cliff, now partially demolished, abandoned and desolate?

Guy's Cliffe House 25 Aug 2013 (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)
Guy’s Cliffe House 25 Aug 2013 (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)

Gaping staircases you cannot climb; stone balconies you long to stand on to gaze at the view; empty windows you feel sure a shadowy figure should flit past.

Just such a gaunt mansion is Guy’s Cliffe House, our local romantic ruin, perched atop a cliff above the River Avon, catching the imagination of all who pass by on the other side of the river.

Guy's Cliffe House as seen from the footpath on the other side of the river Avon (photo credit Jamie Robinson)
Guy’s Cliffe House as seen from the footpath on the other side of the river Avon (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Gothic stone tracery, an ornate balcony, evidence of a flambuoyant builder, remain to tantalize you.

For one of those who occupied  the house embellished it with Roman, classical, mediaeval and Gothic elements.

Guy’s Cliffe House  so caught my own imagination during the past few years that I occasionally wished that, if I was hugely wealthy, I could pay for it to be restored to its former glory.

In reality, I’d like it to be made safe for people to enter and explore, and for new timber staircases and walkways to be constructed, so we could climb to those balconies and gaze at the view.

And I’d like all the original formal gardens to be restored so people can wander around in them and enjoy the romantic setting.

I feel that Guy’s Cliffe is a poignant illustration of what happens when wealthy property owners do not successfully pass on their property to an equally rich and prudent and competent heir.

One developer/house-breaker deliberately demolished part of the Guy’s Cliffe House, then all the contents were auctioned off, and and accidental fire and neglect did the rest.

We all find it difficult to understand how such a grand property gets damaged, ransacked and neglected like that.

8 foot tall bamboo now crowds close to the cave in the cliff, where Guy of Warwick, in the tenth century, returned from the Holy Land and mysteriously chose to live for two years, rather than reuniting with his wife and child in the house above.

The cave where Guy of Warwick lived for 2 years (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)
The cave where Guy of Warwick lived for 2 years (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)

The chapel of Mary Magdalene with Guy's Cliffe House behind (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)
The chapel of Mary Magdalene with Guy’s Cliffe House behind (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)

And next to the house, the lovely chapel of Mary Magdalene contains Guy’s figure in stone, representing him to be 8 ft high.

The formal gardens have vanished, overgrown by tall trees and shrubs and bamboo.tall bamboo crowds close to Guy's Cliff,in place of the earlier formal gardens

tall bamboo crowds close to Guy’s Cliff,in place of the earlier formal gardens

It’s like another world – untouched, just left as it is.

So many windows. You feel somebody should appear in them.

We couldn’t fail to wonder and imagine as we took the guided tour around the house and grounds on 25 August 2013, guided by our host Adrian, with an excellent, fluent and richly informative talk.

If you’re in the area of Warwick then don’t forget to book a guided tour round Guy’s Cliffe after you’ve visited Warwick Castle!

A Golden Field, a Short Life That Touched Many Hearts, and a Poignant Moment in a Country Churchyard

Milverton Hill  Fri 7 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
Milverton Hill Fri 7 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

This photo was taken on Milverton Hill, Leamington Spa  between St James’s Church Old Milverton and the Saxon Mill, Warwick.

At about 4.30pm on Friday 7 June I walked with my two teenage  children through the churchyard to  reach this field.

A late summer afternoon in the English countryside is such a quiet, luminous, poignant time.

And it’s one of the loveliest times to be on Milverton Hill. You breathe in a green woody scent, a fragrance of light and sunshine. 

Old Milverton Church 7 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
Old Milverton Church 7 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

As we walked through the churchyard to reach the field, we found a plaque in the grass:

Ruby Lee Johnson 

8th June 1995-23rd April 2009

aged 13 years

sweet, rare, exquisite

Ruby’s mother Sarah was tending the flowers, and Ruby’s father Richard was mowing the grass.

Ruby was in my daughter Abigail’s year at school, and Abigail knew Ruby and her story,  as many others in our area do, whose hearts were touched by Ruby’s three year struggle with cancer, and her death in 2009.

Sarah, cheerful and pleasant, said to Abigail, “You’re the age Ruby would have been. Tomorrow is her 18th birthday.”

Ruby Johnson 18th birthday memorial (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
Ruby Johnson 18th birthday memorial (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

Ruby’s dog Gracie was with them too. Propped against the flower containers by the plaque is a photo which shows this family pet with Ruby 5 years ago.

rapeseed & shepherd's-purse flowers(photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
rapeseed & shepherd’s-purse flowers(photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

As we walked out through the gate onto Milverton Hill, beyond the church, I couldn’t help comparing the shortness of Ruby’s life to the transience of golden fields in the English countryside.

In this lovely field, popular with walkers, the cobweb tracery of Shepherd’s-Purse flowers, too, appear between the golden rapeseed flowers.  Each petal is silk to the touch, and you feel the cool breeze as you face towards the church. Turning back again to face down towards the Guy’s Cliffe House ruin and the Saxon Mill, the trees seem sculpted against a radiant horizon of intense clarity, each golden flower backlit.

Golden fields don’t last long. But they do reappear each summer. And so will this little memorial to Ruby touch many hearts through future generations.

Places of Inspiration Part 6: The Saxon Mill, a Writer’s Delight by the Mill-Race on the River Avon Near Warwick

In each one of my places of inspiration I have found spirit of place : in India, at Ayers Rock/Uluru in Australia, in London, in the White Garden at Sissinghurst in Kent, and in Sydney Opera House.  But today, I return to a place very close to home – it’s the Saxon Mill on the River Avon, just outside Warwick – and five minutes walk from where I live.

The Saxon Mill, Warwick
The Saxon Mill, Warwick

The Saxon Mill is a romantic building, which feeds a writer’s imagination – especially for those who write historical fiction. And just down the river is the gaunt, atmospheric ruin of Guy’s Cliffe House. I cannot walk along the river bank here, and stand opposite and gaze at it without imagining all sorts of stories – tales of romance, tragedy, ill deeds, ghosts…

Nearby, on Blacklow Hill, in 1312 King Edward II’s favourite Piers Gaveston was dragged by the Earl of Warwick’s heavy-gang, to a spot now known as Gaveston’s Cross, where he was savagely murdered. He was Edward II’s lover, and exerting much too much power over the kingdom for the Earl of Warwick’s liking. Even a grim tale like this can add to the romance of a place – separated as those events are from us by 700 years.

But what completes the delight of the Saxon Mill for me is its location on the River Avon. Tables and benches are set out overlooking the mill-pond; the old water-wheel may be viewed here too. I love the smell of it; dank, moist timber, full of darkness and age and mystery…

Further along is the footbridge over the weir.  White water gushes down, foaming the river. The terrace overlooking the mill-race is filled daily with people eating and drinking and chatting and laughing; it’s a popular gathering place for locals and those who come from a greater distance.

Saxon Mill weir and footbridge
Saxon Mill weir and footbridge

We went there in the heavy snow of December 2010 to photograph the river and trees, looking like Wonderland.

The Weir at the Saxon Mill 26 Dec 2010
The Weir at the Saxon Mill 26 Dec 2010

Beyond the footbridge you may find a track which traverses the fields to Old Milverton Church – another path much enjoyed by walkers and dogs alike.

I associate the Saxon Mill with happy social gatherings, with a writer’s inspiration, with romantic wonderings… Very close to home, it has that unmistakeable spirit of place.

Do you have a favourite place, near to home, that inspires your imagination? I’d love to hear your stories and comments!