Angels by Mary Oliver

Angels by Mary Oliver

You might see an angel anytime and anywhere.

Of course, you have to open your eyes to a kind of
second level, but it’s not really hard.

The whole business of what’s reality and what isn’t has never been solved and probably never will be.

So I don’t care to be too definite about anything.
I have a lot of edges called Perhaps and almost nothing you can call Certainty.

For myself, but not for other people.

That’s a place you just can’t get into, not entirely anyway, other people’s heads.

I’ll just leave you with this.
I don’t care how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

It’s enough to know that for some people they exist, and that they dance.


First response from  Jan Garood

The psalm says: “Happy are those whose way is blameless Who observe the Holy One’s law. “

Is keeping the biblical law front of your mind?  It’s not keeping the rules and regulations that motivate me, that make me happy or even that make me “good”.  I try to obey the laws of the land, I mostly agree with them.  I try to live by the laws of God as I understand them; but that is not a source of joy.   My first thought is that to focus on living blamelessly is more likely to feed self-righteousness than happiness.

I shuddered at all those precisely defined rules in the Matt reading.  I also raised my eyebrow and blood pressure at the sexism in the discussion of adultery – Doesn’t the New Commandment require that we love one another … and all our behaviour and values flows from that love?  Jean and I have argued about this, but I’m not talking about a St Valentines’ Day mushy love; I mean Big Love: an agape love, a compassion for all humanity: the difficult and the pernickity; the Putins, Xi Jinpings and Trumps and the 98.3 million refugees world wide.  A Big Love that encompasses all of creation.

The social contract is about limiting our absolute freedom to do whatever we want; so that we can live in a civilised society.  We obey the laws of the land and we have the protection of the law.  The fact that protection of the law is expensive does however limit this arrangement.  A moral person might find a law unjust and protest that; full knowing that they risk trouble.  This is the delemma for each individual; to each discern our own law, that is our journey.

The whole question of moral rules and regulations is interesting.  The rules vary over time and between cultures.  For example we are shocked by the morality police of militant Islam.  I am also shocked by the reversal of Rowe vs Wade in the USA!

What is an indigenous moral code?  I have a sense of egalitarianism and even socialism in First Nation Australian society – a taking care of the mob, sharing the bounty with family and community.   Really important and very different from corporate Australia  is valuing the earth and all creation as sacred.  There is also a strong sense of justice both in native laws and among aboriginal people – particulalry in the cries for treaty.

In North America the Iriquois Confederacy bought together five and later 6 tribes in about 1442 under an oral constitution known as the The Great Law of Peace.  It was conceived by Dekanawidah, a chief known as the Great Peacemaker, and his spokesman Hiawatha.   It included that all decisions must ensure the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come. The world would be a very different place if that were a principal of International Law.[1]

Some refer to the Testament of the Creation, this approach allows us to think of the creation itself as a voice of God or as a Source of Law. There is an international movement of lawyers committed to work for the inclusion of Earth Rights or Rights of Nature in national constitutions.  They support an Earth Charter and the adoption of the proposed international law of Ecocide and Crimes Against Future Generations.  It could be seen as a movement to codify in international law the principles first nations people have lived by for millennia.

Justice Lionel Murphy was often a dissenting voice on the High Court.  His decisions argued for wide and generous interpretations of the law to promote fairness, justice and tolerance.   He said*: “The common law is made by judges. Australian courts ..should, ….. evolve the common law so that it will be rational, humane and just ……. If this were not so,  ie if it didn’t evolve we would still be deciding cases by following the decisions of medieval judges.”[2]

I would like to suggest this approach with the biblical laws and regulations – they must be interpretted in a contemporary context with BIG LOVE, compassion and justice.  For me, it is the acting in love that will bring joy, not the living blamelessly.

I liked the advice in Matthew about making oaths.  When I was young I was prone to exaggerated speech: everything was either “fabulous!” or “horrendous!”.   I now admire the undersated, the modesty, the unambiguity of a simple YES or NO!  Yet, ……. I do love Mary Oliver’s decision not to be too definite about anything, there are many sides to reality and the possibility that there is an angel looking after you, and that she might be dancing, is just too good to dismiss outright.

Second response from Jean Ross

Once upon a time long long ago in a land far, far away

Many stories were told that belong in that other day.  Back then there were, as there are now, rules and regulations, law-order makers, enforcers and interpreters.

Whose law? Whose order?

According to the psalmist  – as we read today –

“Happy are those whose way is balmeless”!  Oh Yeah!! Blameless – without blame  not blamed for anything??                        What way is that?             Who could it possibly be?  A balmeless way?    And what’s happiness got to do withit?Happy are those who walk the way

Observe and follow the Holy One’s decrees

YWHW’s decrees

-According to whom? Interpretted by whom?

When? Where?

Happy are those who seek the Holy One with their whole heart


How could that be?

Who do no wrong??

Who could that be?

Is being obedient, obeying the law, following it diligently, wholeheartedly, keeping the law – is that what will led to happiness?

Better than you?

Better than others?

No! I’m not urging you to break out and disobey rules, rules and regulations, laws and decrees.  But to consider what it is that really leads to happiness (whatever that may be)

Is it just your happiness that matters?

What is happiness?  Contentedness?

Self righteousness?

Bliss? Compassion?

Blessedness?  Calmness?

Concern – care for others?

Is it brief? Temporary?    Lasting?    Everlasting?              Is it joy?

Is it peace and justice for the whole of the interconnected web of life?

In the book of Dueteronomy – a set reading for today – the people are urged to cross into (and take over) a land that is not theirs – to possess it – to OBEY YWHW -so they will have a life and prosperity

“I set before youlife and blessings or death and curses”

Choose life

Obey the HOLY ONE

(Never mind the people who are displaced)                        Life – happiness – keeping the law

Helen Garner – distinguished (and somewhat controversial) writer is reported recently in The Guardian[3]’s “What Makes Me Happy Now” series as having said

“It’s taken me 80 years to figure out that it’s not a tranquil, sunlit realm at the top of the ladder you’ve spent your whole life hauling yourself up, rung by rung. It’s more like the thing that Christians call grace: you can’t earn it, you can’t strive for it, it’s not a reward for virtue. It exists all right, it will be given to you, but it’s fluid, it’s evasive, it’s out of reach. It’s something you glimpse in the corner of your eye until one day you’re up to your neck in it. And before you’ve had time to take a big gasp and name it, it’s gone.

So I’m not going to spend what’s left of my life hanging round waiting for it. I’m going to settle for small, random stabs of extreme interestingness – moments of intense awareness of the things I’m about to lose, and of gladness that they exist. Things that remind me of other things. Tiny scenes. Words that people choose, their accidentally biblical turns of phrase. Hand-lettered signs, quotes from books, offhand remarks that make me think of dead people, or of living ones I can no longer stand the sight of. I plan to keep writing them down, praising them, arranging them like stepping stones into the dark. Maybe they’ll lead me somewhere good before I shrivel up and blow away.”



Let’s acknowledge the importance of rules and regulations in their time and in their place.  But let’s celebrate life’s beauty and mystery as we commit ourselves to work ( as each is able) for justice and peace.

Let’s walk together and hear each other into speech.

Let’s watch for Angels dancing on Pinheads.


[2] In his dissenting judgment in Dugan, quoted from