Thursday, October 22, 2009
Book Review: "The Angelic Way"
The Angelic Way: Angels through the Ages and Their Meaning for Us
By Rabbi Rami Shapiro
New York: Bluebridge, 2009
Angels have captured the imagination of humanity since the beginning of time. Rabbi Rami Shapiro seeks to examine and explore the mystery of angels in his new book, “The Angelic Way: Angels Through the Ages and Their Meaning for Us.” He uncovers the shared myths about angels that exist in all the major religions of the world and contrasts and compares them. He emphasizes that myth does not mean “made up.” Rather, a myth may very well be rooted in reality. The purpose of a myth is to “bring about a transformation in the person wrestling with that myth.” Angels are meant to transform us, to bring us into closer contact with God, our Creator. Angels help lead us away from the notion that we are separate from God, an individual unto ourselves. They show us our interconnectedness with all the other beings on Earth and indeed, with God Himself.
Shapiro’s study is fascinating. While he does spend a great deal of time explaining the Jewish understanding of angels (understandably so), he does a very good job of researching how angels are portrayed in all the major religions of the world. The commonalities are striking. He also shows how the understanding of angels has changed over time. His chapter on “Satan, the Fallen Angel” is particularly interesting. He shows how the concept of Satan has developed through the ages. The idea of Satan predates Jesus by over a thousand years and has its roots in Zoroastrian mythology where he acts in opposition to God. In contrast, the Hebrew Scriptures present Satan as one who acts at God’s command or as “agent provocateur” (witness the book of Job). Satan can only suggest things. People choose to act. It is only in Christianity that Satan becomes capable of possessing people and forcing them to act.
Shapiro also devotes considerable time to exploring how angels have appeared as humans, the archangels, and the angel of death. He also delves into “the ascended ones” – humans in the various faith traditions who have been granted access to the next realm and then return to help those still in this realm. Elijah in Judaism, Mary in Christianity, and Muhammad in Islam all fall into this category. Shapiro’s last chapter is devoted to “Lectio Divina and the Angelic Way” to invite readers to meditate on the angelic myths and learn from them.
“The Angelic Way” is very interesting. While some of Shapiro’s ideas are dangerously close to Pantheism, there is still much to be learned from these pages. Perhaps the most important lesson is that angels are for all of us, regardless of our religious tradition.