An angel encounters various biblical heroes in the local supermarket.
An extract from the book
Index & Bible References
1. The Warthog Acts 9
2. The Lost Lady Matthew 19
3. Miriam Numbers 12 & Genesis 19 & Exodus 2 & Exodus 15
4. Jake Genesis 28
5. Jake Again Genesis 32
6. Mary Luke 1
7. Rebekah Genesis 24
8. Daniel Daniel 6
9. Wet! Exodus 14
10. Warthog 2 Acts 9
11. Mr Rich and… Luke 12
12. Hagar Genesis 16
13. Lost Lady 2 Matthew 19
14. Elijah 1 Kings 19
15. Gideon Judges 6
16. Zechariah Zechariah 3
17. Zechariah 2 Zechariah 5
18. Manoah Judges 13
19. Hagar 2 Genesis 21
20. Rebel Prophet Numbers 22
21. The Battle Luke 22
22. Abraham Genesis 22 & Luke 23
23. Sunday A.M. Luke 24
24. Going Up Acts 1
25. Jailbreak Acts 5
26. Phillip Acts 8
27. The Soldier Acts 10
28. The Big Guy Acts 12
29. Man From… Acts 16
30. The Dream Acts 27 & 1 Corinthians 13 & Romans 8 v 31-39
31. The River Genesis 3 & Revelation 22
- - -
The stranger moved silently down the aisle, like a glistening and mesmerising wisp of gold leaf gliding down the corridors of another life. The further it went the more it thickened and took on another character entirely. Becoming gradually human. Or at least appearing so. Along the way going through a whole host of shades and colours, some known, some new. A rainbow of rainbows, you could say. Yet he was tough too. No floating pushover, flinty, made of quality stuff. And tall, the way a lot of them are. Outside of space and time, and yet stepping into it.
The Cantankerous Warthog
I’ve taken to living with a friendly family with a delightful seven-year-old (they were looking for a lodger, I didn’t just gate-crash). I could of course just come and go each day without settling anywhere in particular, but I find that there’s a certain appeal and a fine advantage in the company of these warm and kind people. The daughter, Ruby, dances like… well… an angel I suppose. We make great dance partners, as we make up the moves as we go along. She’s good at giggling too.
I’ve also taken to hanging around in the local supermarket. This seems to be a very handy place for catching all those people I have messages for. Take today for instance. I was browsing in the frozen food aisle when I bumped into a man well-suited to be in that frosty section. For a moment I thought it might be old Scrooge himself, pre-ghost busted, if you know what I mean. He was a small, frowning, furrow of a man. Cantankerous, a grumpy cross between a hungry warthog and a dismayed, crumpled vulture. He didn’t smile.
‘You’re in my way,’ he growled, seemingly put out that he had to tell me so.
‘On a bad day?’ I said.
He frowned. ‘No.’
‘Just shopping for one then?’ I indicated his half-empty basket.
‘Not a crime, is it? And no business of yours. I like my own company’
I watched him snuffling about in the frozen packets.
‘I know you,’ I said.
‘That’s no surprise, everyone knows me, or should do anyway.’
‘You’ve been throwing your weight around, what little of it you have. Enlisting the help of misguided thugs, arresting innocent people.’
‘All Christians are fools,’ he said, ‘claiming this that and the other about the invisible friend whose going to save them. I used to have an invisible friend. When I was six! But I grew up. They are all conning themselves. So I’m going to open their eyes, with whatever it takes.’
‘Really?’ I said.
‘Oh yes. Really. We don’t need the corrupting power of their religion. Causing division and prejudice and wars.’
‘Really?’ I said.
I considered this and nodded gently. ‘And what about the corrupting power of prejudice and bigotry and threatening violent reprisals?’
‘Ha! You know nothing!’ he sneered.
He rubbed his hands with a menacing kind of glee. I thought of my seven-year-old dancing friend in my new family and shuddered.
‘Why do you do it?’ I said.
‘I told you,’ he snarled, picking up a small packet of frozen peas and squeezing it. Hard.
‘No. I mean, you. What is it about you? Why do you feel threatened?’
He cleared his throat noisily. Said nothing for a while. I waited. I’m quite good at waiting.
‘You have to be… right,’ he said eventually. ‘Not misguided. Have to be accurate, no room for mistakes.’
‘Is that what they told you?’
‘Whoever brought you up.’
He threw me a sharp look, as if his gaze were firing missiles at me.
‘Go away,’ he snapped.
So I snapped too. My fingers I mean. I had a sudden sense that the time was right. So I clicked them. Just gently. And he dropped the ice-cold bag of peas as if it was a hot potato. And his lower jaw. His mouth fell open like the bottom dropping out of his worldview. He was looking up, and then shielding his eyes. And then looking again, peeping over the top of his raised, open hand. There was a shaft of bright yellow across his face, lighting up his eyes. His mouth worked as he tried to speak and I heard him mumble.
‘Who… who are you… Lord?’
I walked away, left him to converse with the God he was trying to destroy. In the next aisle my eyes lit up too. Here she was with her mum. My new best friend.
‘Gabe!’ she yelled as she came dancing down the aisle towards me, her face bright.
We chatted about her day so far and she told me about various funny things that had happened. Her dad had dropped his jammy toast and trodden on it when he was rushing his breakfast. And then when she spotted the post lady through the window Ruby had pulled a funny face at her – and the post lady had pulled a funny face back! Plus a bird had been dancing and flapping madly as it took a bath in one of the puddles in their garden. So we chatted for quite a while about lots of these things. And very important things they are too.
The Lost Lady
She looked a little lost, bemused perhaps, as if this wasn’t her kind of place. As if the shops she normally visited didn’t have so many special offers or three-for-two deals.
‘Can I help you?’ I said.
She looked at me as if she was a little short-sighted, and had left her specs at home. Squinted at me a little.
‘I erm… I’m looking for something good,’ she said.
She was dignified, with an accent that shouted about a smart education. And privilege. Oddly I felt sorry for her. She looked lost in here. Small somehow.
‘It’s my birthday soon, what do you buy yourself when you have everything?’
‘Perhaps you don’t need to buy yourself anything,’ I said, with a smile.
She nodded slowly, quietly.
‘I need something,’ she said. ‘You know… more.’
‘Some things just make the gap bigger,’ I said. ‘You know, the gap inside.’
For a moment her eyes softened and a couple of tears seeped out. Just for a moment.
‘I don’t know why I came in here today,’ she said, ‘I don’t usually, something seemed to draw me.’ She looked around in silence for a while. Tapped on or two of the items on the baking shelves, picked them up, held them for a moment, put them down again. I waited.
‘People don’t normally take this kind of an interest in me. Don’t seem to have real conversations… I miss that. The thoughts crash around my head, sometimes, chasing one another, trying to find a way out. Feel as if I’m going mad sometimes… need something… for a while you feel as if you have it all, don’t need anything… then one day you start to wonder, feel empty… see it all a little differently… is there more… I want more…’
‘Suppose you could live a simpler life?’ I said.
‘I do my best,’ she said, ‘you know, try to be good. Try to be nice.’
I drew a square in the air with my fingers, and stretched it until it was ooh, almost the size of a cinema screen, I can do that, I have these abilities. I know, it’s impressive, isn’t it? Anyway, I made the screen for her. And we watched as the scene came into focus and a little girl came skipping out of a house by a river. The woman beside me gasped and clasped her hand across her mouth.
‘That’s me!’ she said. ‘How d’you do this?’
I shrugged. It’s always a pleasure to amaze people.
We watched for a while as she skipped across the lawn, met a friend and they played happily together on the grass. Then an adult, a stormy, bluster of a man, came marching out of the house and scolded her for a whole host of crimes. Getting her knees green and smudged, leaving the house without finishing her jobs, not tidying her room… there was a list and it went on. Meanwhile her friend backed off and slipped away. I heard a sigh beside me.
‘I suppose he was right,’ she said, ‘my dad, he was always right.’
‘D’you think that was when it started?’ I said.
‘What d’you mean?’
‘That need to ‘get everything right’? Did it begin then?’
She took a step back.
‘How d’you know all this?’ she said, shaking her head as if trying to wake up from a strange dream.
‘I know that what you’re looking for you haven’t found. The peace, the purpose, the dignity. Instead you have shored yourself up with success and achievement. Suppose you could find that, with a simpler life. Setting those things aside for another focus. A relational one. With another father. A different father. A good one. A kind one.’
‘I don’t understand, I don’t what you mean…’
A certain steel seemed to flash in her eyes, like a shutter coming down.
‘I’m not sure what you want from me,’ she said, and I saw her glance over my shoulder, spotting a friend or acquaintance no doubt. She forced a smile, just as if she’d pressed a button and changed a setting. I felt a tap on my right leg and turned to see no one there, but I heard the giggling and on swinging round to my left I spotted her, all grins and freckles. It was of course Ruby! My dancing friend. We high-fived and when I turned back to introduce her to the woman the aisle was empty. The woman had gone.
Walked into the kitchen this morning to find Ruby forcing her dad to do the Macarena. I think he was enjoying dancing with his daughter till I walked in and he remembered he shouldn’t be seen doing that kind of thing as a bloke. Made him feel better when I joined in though. I’ve done all kinds of dances. Some of them fairly competently.
I stood outside for a while this morning. The weather was none too bright and there was a chill in the steady breeze but I was watching the dancers. They were raising money for an upcoming event, taking struggling families for a day’s trip to a nearby theme park. The dancers were good, very good, way better than me doing the Macarena. Not as good as Ruby doing it though.
Afterwards I sidled up to Miriam. She wasn’t looking happy.
‘Great show,’ I said.
She shook her head.
I could barely get the question out when she was jabbing a finger towards one of the others.
‘Him! Old High and Mighty there. Thinks he owns the place. Thinks he can tell us all what to do.’
‘Well, he can, he’s in charge!’ I said. ‘That’s Moses. You’re best bro.’
‘Well he shouldn’t be in charge, throwing his weight around, doesn’t always know best. And right now he’s anything but my “best bro”!’’
‘Really but nothing!’ And she shoved me backwards to make her point, so that I bounced off a couple of industrial-sized wheely bins. I’d have bruised my shoulder and cricked my neck, only… well, the flesh and blood stuff isn’t real. Not on me. It’s just an outfit. You know, me being an angel in disguise and all that.
‘Miriam, listen,’ I said, ‘remember how you saved your brother’s life, risked yours to look after him when he was only a baby. Remember that? When he was tiny and helpless in that basket? And how you were full of confidence and praise when you helped lead everyone to safety after that escape from slavery. Remember your song? You were so positive then, so supportive, the people could look to you. What’s happened? You have to get a hold of that ego of yours, it’ll bring you down.’
‘Me? Me!! You’re kidding! What about his ego? Lording it over us. I’m just as important as he is you know.’
‘I don’t think this is about him, is it?’ I said. ‘It’s about his wife isn’t it? And you judging her.’
‘None of your business,’ she spat the words with a certain venom, and not a little spittle.
‘You know,’ I said, ‘Moses isn’t just any old leader. He’s different. He’s a changed man, a one-off. And he has a close relationship with his God. You have to guard your jealousy or it’ll eat you up. Destroy you from the inside out.’
‘Oh really? And who made you my shrink?’ And she stormed off to shake her brother warmly by the scruff of the neck.
There was a guy called Lot. Way back now, and his wife decided to push the boundaries a bit. It’s the one and only time I’ve been able to use my salt-pillar superpower, which is quite a rare and impressive gift. Even if I say so myself. Don’t look back, we told her, don’t be tempted to hanker for what’s gone. Move forward now, we said. Let go, we urged her. Press on. And what did she do? Just the opposite. Stopped, turned, took a full, long eye-full of the place she’d just left. So zzapp! We had to get out the salt-pillar superpower. Zzapp! Right there. One woman-shaped pile of sodium chloride. Apparently they kept her in the larder after that. Anyway, I tell you all this because I was tempted, sorely tempted, in that car park, to bring out that superpower again. Zzapp! That’s all it would take and there’d be one Miriam-shaped pile of salt. Right there. I could see it happening in my mind’s eye. I could feel my finger twitching. Just one snap of my thumb and forefinger and we’d have made the front page of the local paper. Plus she’d have kept aisle three well stocked for a good long while.
B…u…u…t… well I couldn’t, could I? I didn’t have the brief or the authority. Not that day. I had to reason with her, calm her down, get her to think through why she was reacting to this situation in this way. So I chased her down and tried my best. Did she listen? Huh. I don’t think so. Wouldn’t unblock those ears of hers, wouldn’t soften her heart. Stiff-necked I think the term is. So it wasn’t salt, not for her, but she did get side-lined for a while. It gave her time to think things through. It’s like that sometimes, discipline can seem unfair, but it isn’t always. There are times when it saves people.
Got home tonight to find that Ruby was in the doghouse. She’d scribbled a sketch on the wall of her bedroom. In ink! A picture of an angel. Hmm. I was fairly sure she had no idea about me, but then, who knows? Perhaps a seven-year-old can see what others can’t. Perhaps anyone can if they look closely enough.
He was young, in his twenties, good-looking, but with a devious glint in his eye. I spot those kind of things. Plus he was loading up his basket with survival stuff. Energy drinks, snack food, powerpacks for his phone, a slimline sleeping bag. That sort of thing.
‘You off somewhere?’ I asked, as we met in the biscuits and crisps aisle.
He gave me a furtive, sidelong glance.
‘Do I know you?’ he asked.
‘Not yet,’ I said.
And before he could say anything else I drew a line in the air above his head. He looked up as a shaft of golden light poured through and separated us. There was an almighty clang as a ladder slid down and connected with the floor tiles. He leapt back.