Three angels always follow me.
As a wee child immersed in our family’s faith story from the crib, I was introduced to the words and imagery of Psalm 23 well before I could read. Bible storybooks coupled David’s song with illustrations of the Good Shepherd from Jesus’ parable, pictured rescuing lost and entangled lambs or carrying them home on his shoulders.
My imagination filled in the gaps, visualizing green pastures, quiet streams, dark valleys, and sumptuous banquets. With my mind’s eye, I pictured bears and lions and dragons in the chasm of death, and overflowing goblets and bowls of olive oil at a wedding reception. So far, so good.
But I also saw three angels, following me wherever I went. Two appeared as matronly bodyguards, the guardian angels who take care of children. As Jesus said, “Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 18:10). And although they were intent and maybe even intimidating in their commitment to my care, I knew they were good because their names were Mercy and Goodness. And they have followed me all the days of my life, ministering angels who have served my best interests (Hebrews 1:14) and obeying God’s commission to take care of me (Psalm 91:11-12), despite my worst efforts.
My third angel
But I mentioned three. Remember, I hadn’t learned to read yet. Remember, I had a vivid imagination. Remember, my mind’s eye pictured every word of the Psalm. With that in mind, let me introduce you to my third angel… less solemn than the others, seemingly less stolid than Goodness and Mercy in her assignment.
This one seemed more like the fun aunt who is playful, less conservative, who lets you away with shenanigans and may even incite them. Lord knows I needed her to pull me back from pensive bouts of worry over the Armageddon and hellfire messages of early 1970s revivalism. She knew better. And she knew me.
Of course, I am referring to Shirley. That’s how I knew her, for as the Good Book promised me, “Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy”—my three angelic godmothers—shall follow me all the days of my life.” Such was their task, as authorized by the Good Shepherd himself.
And the funny thing is, as I grew up and learned the correct spelling and found out that “surely” means “truly,” that information hasn’t changed a thing. I wasn’t a literalist then, and I’m no longer a literalist today. I’ve learned a few things about Jewish midrash and the like. So I, too, guard that little boy in me who knows Shirley well, is sometimes embarrassed by her gaze, but also gives her frequent nods of appreciation. Whoever or whatever she is, even a figment of my imagination, to that boy and to my adult self, she’s still good ol’ Auntie Shirley… and her smile reminds me that some promises are “truly, truly.”
Thanks for the follow, Shirley.