People have suggested that angels would be a natural subject for my artwork, but I was hesitant because in the Bible, when angels are described it seems they look like men – large scary men who have to tell people not to be afraid. I guess I could draw big scary men if I wanted to, but I don’t really want to. My husband pointed out that feminine angels are a longstanding cultural tradition, even if they do not exist in the Bible or in the real world. True enough, but I wondered about the ethics of adding to the piles of false theology floating around in the culture — knowing that false theology about angels is especially abundant.
I absolutely love the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Every time I watch it I end up feeling….well, like life is wonderful, at least for a few minutes. But the theology implied in the film has absolutely no substantiation in the Bible, and where else do we get the concept of angels – unless of course we have happened to run into one ourselves.
Clarence the angel is a guy who seems to have lived and died in the 19th century, or maybe he lived into the early 20th. There is some indication in the dialog that he was a contemporary of Mark Twain, and after he died he became an angel. He seems to answer to a voice he calls Joseph. Maybe the voice is that of a supervising angel or maybe it is Saint Joseph, foster father of Jesus. That would tie in with the Christmas theme. This Joseph is not positively identified – he presents as simply an authoritative voice in the sky. So Clarence is a former human being, but the real angels as described in the Bible, it seems, are not humans who have died, but rather were all created at once sometime before humans or any life as we know it existed on earth. They are spiritual beings who, although it seems that can appear as human beings in order to communicate with people, but are not human and never have been.
Also, angels in the Bible do not have to earn their wings or anything else. They have all they need and as long as they do not reject God and choose to go their own way, they have all that they need. The entire plot of “It’s a Wonderful Life” hangs on Clarence’s need to earn his wings. That provides his motivation for helping George Bailey discover how wonderful his life is. The one part of the whole idea that may be somewhat accurate is that angels do, it seems, help humans. Maybe the movie would have worked just as well if Clarence were an ordinary angel who God sent to help George Bailey just because He loved him. But the bumbling amateur nature of the angel and George’s skepticism about his ability to help do provide much of the movie’s charm.
If an awesome scary tall creature of light appeared to George Bailey on the bridge, George might have been overwhelmed by awe and believed anything the angel told him; he would not have needed to experience all the horrible things that would have happened if he had never been born. We might have had some movie, but it certainly would not have been the same movie. So long as we realize that this is a movie is based on a cultural myth and not Biblical truth, we can sit back with our popcorn, lighten up, and enjoy it. Which I plan to do in the near future.
Meanwhile, I had to make a choice about doing art that would add to the cultural mythology around angels. Pretty girls with soft faces and wings and flowing dresses would be fun to draw and fit my milieu. How would it be different from drawing fairies or any other person or creature that does not happen to exist in reality? Well, of course, said that prudish little dictator inside me, fairies are not a distortion of Biblical truth. When you refer to things in the sacred Bible you should be accurate and not deceive people. The prudish little dictator can be brutal.
Well I felt a strong desire to draw angels but resisted the idea for several days. Then Monday I found myself along with my art supplies in a hospital waiting room. They had just wheeled my husband away for heart surgery. I spread out my pens and pencils on the little table in front of the sofa, took out my pad, and began to draw. What came out came out. And this is what came out…..not quite in the league with Abbot Thayer and the other Pre-Raphaelites, but hey, you might say it is my masterpiece to date.
It comes down to this. When we are doing art or writing, and we do it with honesty and genuineness, what is in us is what’s going to come out. Even if what is in us happens to be a clouds of fluffy cultural myths. And doing this picture kept me calm and occupied for four hours of surgery. There’s definitely something angelic about that.