THE IN THE HOURS JUST AFTER MIDNIGHT ONE AUGUST NIGHT LAST year, Samantha Lawrence of Richardson was driving an elderly friend back to her home in Denton. As they drove along the s^^dark farm-to-market road, the car’s left rear tire blew out. NEITHER Lawrence, who had recently had knee surgery, nor her elderly friend could stoop to change the tire. Seemingly out of nowhere, a blond-haired man in a white pickup pulled up behind Lawrence’s Mercury Tracer and offered to help. Lawrence watched him change her tire, and then she reached into the car for her purse to give him some money. When she turned around, the man and the truck had vanished. Puzzled, but happy to have been rescued, the two women continued the drive to Denton. As they approached Highway 121, they came upon a terrible car accident that had just taken place. “THAT’S WHEN WE STARTED THINKING the man must have been a guardian angel and that maybe the tire blew out for a reason,” Lawrence says. VlCKl WAGES OF ARLINGTON might well agree. One night several years ago, Vicki retired to her bedroom to pray for a friend who had experienced a major heart attack. There, in her room, hovered what she describes as a luminous being: an ange 1. “The angel told me what was going to happen to my friend. [My friend] did pass away.” AFTERWARD, WAGES TRIED TO DISMISS THE INCI-dent, convinced that it must have been her imagination. But six weeks later, stricken with insomnia, she got up, made herself a cup of tea, and walked into her study. Once more she found the angel. “When the angel came back to me again, I knew I hadn’t made it up.”

ES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS indeed a seraph. Angels, en masse, are spreading their wings across the Metroplex. And while celestial sightings spark visions of other-worldliness, the fascination with angels also takes numerous more mundane forms.

New books about angels line the shelves of local bookstores. Classes and seminars, such as Fun-Ed’s “Angels Among Us” and Southern Methodist University’s continuing education course “Voices of Angels,” fill with angel enthusiasts. Angel seekers congregate at the now annual “Calling All Angels” conference at the Center for the Angels in Lake Whitney, Texas, two hours south of Dallas.

Witness angel workshops, angel therapy, angel support groups, and angel booths at local psychic fairs. The winged beings even made an appearance in August on KERA Channel 13 in a PBS special, “In Search or Angels,” watched by a miraculous 100,000 households in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Look, too, for angels in their most material forms. This month, oodles of angelic bric-a-brac belonging to the Lone Star State Chapter of the Angel Collectors Club of America hover throughout the DeGolyer House at the Dallas Arboretum. Angelware of every sise, shape, and form is sprout ingwings and flying out of Dallas gift stores.

The obsession with angels is not just another sign of Yuletide cheer; these angel offerings show nosign of vanishing the day after Christmas. Dallas’ fascination with angels mirrors a national preoccupation that has been increasing steadily since the late 1980s. A 1988 Gallup poll showed that more than 50 percent of adult Americans believe in angels. Experts think today’snumbers are even higher, and offer a variety of explanations for the phenomenon.

“A lot of the wave of interest in angels started right here in Dallas,” notes Gail Thomas, Ph.D., founder and director of The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. “We were the very first institute, to our knowledge, in the country to have a conference on angels in 1989. Many of the people who attended that very first conference went away hooked on angels.”

“We are undergoing a profound transformation of consciousness at the end of the 20th century,” says John H. McMunphy, Ph.D., instructor of “Voices of Angels” at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. “Angels are symbols of divine ideas, and as we evolve our consciousness toward a higher awareness, angels are appearing as part of that process.”

Many believe that as we approach the millennium, people are turning to angels for comfort in a world plagued by hunger, homelessness, AIDS, poverty, drugs, and crime.

“I think a lot of the angel movement right now is [happening] because the human race is tired of being constantly bombarded by negativity, darkness and all the things that are wrong in the world,” says Dana Reynolds, the Dallas author of Be An Angel published this October by Simon & Schuster. The book profiles 20th-century angels and offers suggestions on how to perform simple acts of grace. “People are looking for, seeking out, and grasping at things that are more spiritual in nature and trying to reconnect with the feeling that there is something out there that is bigger and more powerful than we are.”

The feeling that “someone up there is watching out tor me” drives the devotion of angel fans. Angels, they say, can protect us from danger and evil, comfort us when we’re sad or in despair, assist us when we’re confronted with problems, and give us hope for the future.

“Angels are comforting,” says Penny Cox, owner of The Angel Garden, an angels-only gift store in the Galleria. “It makes you feel good that in this crazy world we live in that maybe we do have a guardian angel that’s looking out for us.”

Our culture is placing angels on a new pedestal after 300 years of industrialisation and scientific rationalization, experts say.

“We desperately hunger for a spiritual reality, and we thirst for a sense of the sacred,” says Dr. Gail Thomas. “The new science is helping to turn our headsaround to acknowledge :he mysteries of the universe. We simply do not know and cannot understand and :annot prove the origins of life. What is it that moves an atom? Could it he an angel’s wing?”

NE NIGHT LAST SEPTEMBER artist Glenda Green awoke in 1er Fort Worth home to a vision of a “luminous healing form with wings of light” who spoke to her in music that turned to words. “You will not he able to understand everything that 1 bring you at this moment,” the being told her, “But through your prayers and meditation, look for the rest of the message as you’re ready for it.”

The angelic intervention led Green to Home Depot. There she literally stumbled on an ash door that became the canvas for heaven-sent oil paintings of angels that, she says, appear so transparent they look like they’re coming through the wood. “I began to get the message: The angels are at the door,” she says.

You don’t have to be a Catholic, a New Ager, or a wide-eyed child named Virginia to believe in angels. The wingspan of anj;el lore extends to nearly all cultures and all religions of the world. Winged figures and guardian spirits appear in Native American religion, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mor-monism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Theologians have debated the existence and role of angels for centuries. The world’s museums, churches, and libraries contain enough material on angels to reach from the top of Da I las’ Renaissance lower to the highest rung of Jacob’s infinite ladder.

Despite this body of knowledge, those who believe they have had encounters with angels often remain reluctant to discuss them.

“I’ve only told the story to people whose presence I’ve been in,” says Green. “They can see from m ? face and my voice that I’m “elating a real experience. When they see my paintings they say, ’This is the real thing. This is authentic’ “

Those who do share their stories of angel encounters report experierces that tend to fall into one of three categories. Some people say they simply have an intuitive feeling of the presence of a beneficent spirit that protects them at all times. Some tell of incidents where a mysterious person appeared to save them from danger and then vanished. Others say a being they believe to be an angel appeared to them-sometimes composed of bright, white light; sometimes with, sometimes without, wings.

What, then, is an angel?

“1 believe that an angel is whatever a person experiences the angel to be,” says instructor John McMurphy. “If it helps me to personify the insight as coming through an angel from God to me, if it helps me relate to God more effectively, more personally, to have the angel be the interme-diary, then 1 believe in angels.”

ELIEVERS OFTEN END THEIR angel stories with incredulous, unanswerable questions. “Two years ago, I was getting ready to move into my house,” says SuEllen Shepard of Dallas, a 37-year-old bookkeeper and desktop publisher. “One Sunday morning when the movers were coming, I heard the words, ’You must get completely moved today.’ During the night, my grandfather passed away, and I was all moved. How did 1 know to do that ?”

Many say that certain experiences simply have no other possible explanation. Robert W. Snipes of Dallas, a retired executive, believes he has a guardian angel named Charlie, who sounds similar to George Bailey’s pal Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life.

“During World War II, 1 was working with the signal corps to put up radar equipment down in Galveston Island to detect enemy submarines or ships that were approaching,” he says. “We had to carry stuff up and down this ladder in a 125-foot-high tower with a hole in the floor [that went all the way to the bottom]. Just before you descended the ladder, there was a great big counterweight that was always in the way, One day I got my screwdriver and decided to take that counterweight off, but I couldn’t.

“The next night as I was leaving, my co-worker called to me from down on the ground, lBob, when you come down, would you bring me a half-inch bit and brace?’ 1 got the tools and hud the handle in my hand. When I started down the ladder and reached for the rung, instead of grabbing the ladder, 1 fell and toppled back into that hole. That counterweight caught me across the back and kept me from falling.”

Snipes believes that Charlie was watching over him and saved his life. “I can point to other things in my life that happened that saved me from serious injury or maybe getting killed,” he says. “There’s no explanation for that.”

Samantha Lawrence of Richardson has also lived a life with angels. Her associations with the celestial began when she was 5 with an eerily prophetic dream about her 11-year-old cousin. “1 had a dream that she was an angel, and she had a hole in her heart,” Lawrence says. “Three weeks later, my cousin did die, and she had a hole in her heart the size of a 50-cent piece.

“Seven months after that,” Lawrence continues, “I was playing in the yard with my cousins at a family reunion. One of my uncles had a car that had a brake problem. I was standing in front of it, and I looked up and the car started moving toward me with nobody in it.

“Suddenly, my cousin that I saw in the dream was standing there. She grabbed my hand and said, ’Come play with me.’ Of course, I was just so happy to see her. I reached out and took her hand. She pulled me out of the way, and the car crashed into a tree. I told everybody at the family reunion that I had seen her, and her parents were just real upset. My aunt told me, ’Sandra, she’s your guardian angel.1 She’s still with me.

“Angels are in my life all the time,” she continues. “I even have visions of them, riding on top of my car when I’m out on 1-635. They wear white robes and have angel wings and have swords pointing out from my car like it’s an armored vehicle so nobody can touch me or hit me. Angels are really important in my life; I talk to them all the time, and I’m not crazy,”

LBERT THE GREAT, THE 13TH-century Dominican monk, scholar, and philosopher, inventoried the heavenly choirs, and counted 3,999,560,004 angels. Today, Dallas-area merchants might calculate a larger number and an ever greater demand.

“I’m selling angel stuff as we speak,” says Christie Martin, co-owner of Happy Destiny Inc., a book and gift store in Lake Highlands. “Sales are huge, huge, huge. And we don’t do a lot of advertising. The people who collect angels put the word out, and that has gotten us a ton of business.”

Another Dallas gift and book store, Overtones, had to create a separate section on angels because the beatific tomes became so popular. “We sell so many angel books,” says co-owner K.C, LeBel. “There’s really been a tremendous surge in interest in the last two years.” Business has also been heavenly for The Angel Garden, which opened its doors in May in the Galleria. “I really have a hard time keeping enough merchandise in the store,” co-owner Cox says. “That’s my biggest problem.”

Since artist Glenda Green found that angels are at the door, she’s also found that angel buyers are knocking loudly. She has abandoned all of her other artistic projects and hired an assistant to keep up with the demand for her paintings.

Mary Matthews, co-founder of the Angel Collectors Club of America, is one of these impassioned angel icon buyers. The Dallas resident has singlehandedly kept cash registers ringing for nearly 20 years. At one time, she counted 1,400 figurines in her collection of angels. “This one’s head came off the other night, so she’ll never go to anybody, but she’s beautiful,” Matthews muses as she guides visitors through her home. “This one was carried by a salesman in Tulsa for 25 years in a red bandanna for his good luck symbol. When 1 got her, she was all dirty but absolutely flawless. Not many as gorgeous as this one.”

While the mass-merchandising portion of the angel movement draws criticism from some who view it as browsing for blue-light specials in a spiritual dime store, those whose pennies come from heaven counter that their motives are purely angelic. “I really do feel,” says Dallas author Dana Reynolds,” that perhaps we’re being called to join the angels and become a band of earth angels to help usher in the millennium and have a more positive era that could begin if we could all just become conscious of the power within.”

Experts agree that the commercialization of angels is not necessarily a bad thing. Gail Thomas of The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture explains that “wherever you find the spiritual, it’s going to be inhabited in something that’s very material. I don’t think we [should] condemn it just because it becomes part of the material world. In fact, just the opposite, we must learn to redeem the material world because of the presence of spirit within it.”

HOSE WHO BELIEVE THEY HAVE been visited by angels stake no claims to an exclusive hot line to the heavens. Angels, they say, often connect with human beings in many ways and in many forms: a mysterious stranger, a bright light, an animal, an inner voice, or the aware-ness of a celestial presence.

Reynolds, who collaborated with Pulitzer prize-winning artist Karen Blessen of Dallas on Be An Angel, believes the creation of the book involved yet a third party-angels. Although she has never seen an angel, Reynolds believes the celestial beings guided her in writing the book. The title came to her from out of the blue during an automatic writing session, she says. And once Simon & Schuster accepted the proposal for the book, she sailed through the composition of the text-completed in one fell four-month revisionless swoop.

Both Blessen and Reynolds say the only possible explanation for the unbelievably smooth process of producing Be An Angel is divine guidance.

“I’ve been doing commercial art for 20 years,” says Blessen. “This book went like a dream. The copy was hardly edited; there were no requests for changes on the illustrations.”

For Blessen, the five-month period during which she illustrated the book coincided with one of the most intense personal and emotional times of her life. She completed many of the illustrations at her parents’ home in Nebraska, where she lived briefly because her father was terminally ill. Strange angel experiences haunted Blessen throughout the production of the book.

“The day we found out we had gotten the proposal for the book [accepted], my father was diagnosed with lung cancer,” she says. “One day I was taking him to radiation treatment, and my father was reading a book called Portals of Prayer, The prayer for the day was about angels as messengers of God.

“Then I went to New York [to meet with the publishing company representatives], and when I got to the airport, I was approached by a man for a limousine service. He gave me his card, which said ’Angels Limousine Service.’ At another appointment, I went to sign into a building, and the person before me had signed his name ’Angel.’

“I turned in the last group of illustrations for the book-the angels of mother, father, the sick, and the dying-on the day my dad died. [Before that] in Nebraska when I was finishing them up, I felt like I was surrounded by something giving me the strength to get through it all. During that time, my dad passed away, my mother had a heart attack, and 1 had this deadline. I prayed many times for help to make it through. Somehow, I felt like I was given superhuman strength to do it all.

“After 1 got back to Texas, 1 was so fatigued and overwhelmed with grief. I kept hearing this voice telling me 1 had to go to Vancouver. I bought my ticket and went. Something kept saying, ’There’s a bookstore; there’s a bookstore.’ I looked through the travel guide and saw an ad for Monroe’s Book Store in Victoria. Halt” an hour before I [had to leave], 1 found the bookstore. As I was leaving, my eyes caught this tiny book. It was a book of Emily Dickenson’s poetry. The first page 1 opened to was a poem about angels. This particular poem was a message to me on how to go on after you’ve suffered a lot of grief. And it was sort of my real closure on the whole book experience and the experience of losing my dad.”

For Blessen, her personal experiences are proof enough that someone, or something, is watching over us.

“Before the book, if I had been asked if 1 believed in angels, I would have described my belief [that angels are] more of a guiding conscience. While working on the book, I had the feeling that SOMETHING was going on. It felt as though all that was happening was not by accident. I felt that Dana and I had been given an assignment-whether by God or by angels or by destiny-I don’t know. But for me, these angels carried me through the hardest time of my life.”



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