Someone at church gave me a little pewter baby angel with eyes closed, hands folded, bare feet sticking out the bottom of its robe.
“Oh, no,” I protested, “I am surrounded by living angels all the time.”
“That’s ok,” he insisted. “Here’s one more.”
This person loves me, so I took the angel and put it in my pocket. Imagine. An angel in my pocket. What would Ezekiel, with his vision of creatures flashing lighting, have thought? I rubbed it between my fingers, pondering angels.
The little angel unsettles me because it sends me back to an experience from when I lived among Mixtec friends in Mexico. One day, a woman came to my door with a saint, a doll made up in bright paint and decked out in rich clothes.
“Do you want to rub your hands on the saint?” she asked, “for luck?”
“Oh, no,” I protested, “I ask God and he watches over me. I have no need to handle saints.”
If she knew I had cancer, would she be back at my door now, offering me a saint to rub?
These people were just trying to be helpful. I am grateful. But I also wonder at our human need to find something to touch when we need luck. Things go wrong and, Mixtec or Mennonite, we grab onto some…thing – a saint, an angel, even a habit of private devotions – to ward off the evils of the day.
It just doesn’t work that way. As a Christian, I am not shielded from the stuff that goes wrong, even if I eat right, run two miles a day and have my devos every morning. I am even a missionary, for goodness sake; does this not spare me? Am I not owed something?
No. We bear the filth of our world in our poor breasts. We share the sufferings of Christ. We take up our cross, and this is mine.
Oh you heavenly creatures, with your wheels within wheels (Ezekiel 1) and your millions of eyes (Revelation 4), do your thing, and I’ll do mine. We’ll serve a living God together. And wonder at painted saints and pewter angels.
—Anne Thiessen and her husband Robert are MB Mission workers among indigenous groups in southern Mexico that are largely unreached by the gospel. Anne teaches children, women’s groups, church groups, missionaries – anyone who wants to join her in learning about God’s grace.