Adventures in Bookland: Seeing Angels by Emma Heathcote-James
Do angels exist? Before attempting an answer to that, perhaps we need to ask what angels are in the first place. The name itself derives from the Greek word for ‘messenger’. In the Biblical context, an angel was God’s messenger. But for many in the contemporary world, they have taken on a different meaning. I remember talking to one lady who did not believe in God but did believe in angels and in life after death. Emma Heathcote-James makes no attempt to answer either question – indeed, she says explicitly that she’s not interested in answering the question, which I find rather astonishing. Rather she is interested in recording people’s experiences of angels and did so by advertising, in Britain, for people to contact her with their stories (leading to some questionable contacts when some people misunderstood her advert to mean that they might meet an ‘angel’). Britain being, by some measures, a highly secular society, I was interested to see how many responses she received: it turns out, many Britons believe they have met, in some manner or other, an angel.
The great virtue of this book is that it allows people to tell their stories in their own words. The angels they meet come in all sorts of forms, some of which didn’t seem particularly angelic to me, but if that was how the person explained the experience then it was included in the study. The most moving section was the one recounting the experiences of people working with the dying: in particular, one nurse working in a hospice regularly saw the dead coming to meet the dying, and bringing great comfort with them.
The book makes no attempt to convince the sceptical, nor to reinforce the belief of the credulous. It simply recounts what people have experienced and, as such, is invaluable in showing the wide range of those experiences.