Rex Hauck: Each day you make contact with the angels. Can you tell us how you do that?
Joan Borysenko: My own practice of meditation is informed in part by Jewish mysticism. And Jewish mysticism has a belief in the angels. I grew up Jewish and I never knew that Jews believed in angels. My Catholic friends had guardian angels--my Jewish friends, no angels.
Several years ago I was leading a women's retreat, which started on a Friday night. And I thought, "Let's welcome in the Sabbath." In Judaism, when you welcome the Sabbath, you're welcoming the Shekinah, the feminine principle of God. And there's a song that one sings called "Shalom Aleichem/Welcome to Peace." As I researched this, I found it was a song of welcome to the angels--who come in to help you keep the Sabbath, to protect you for this holy 24 hours during which you pull yourself out of the world and you come into the divine presence. And so I found an old meditation that really changed my spiritual practice.
It has to do with the invocation of the four archangels: Uriel, Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael. And, first of all, I want to say that oftentimes when you talk about angels, people go, "Oh damn, they're all men, the patriarchy has taken over again here." But in Hebrew, those names are neither masculine nor feminine--they're all aspects of God.
Uriel--ur, in Hebrew--means "fire." And you invoke this as it comes up in the east. So, if I am facing east, as you would in prayer, I invoke Uriel in the space in front of me. The fire of God is all about clarity, so I'll ask Uriel, "Please give me clarity in this day. How can I best be of service?" Or, if I'm going through some problems, I'll ask specifically for clarity on that problem.
Then I'll move to my right, which would be south, and the angel of the south is Gabriel. Gabriel in Hebrew means "the strength of God," particularly the strength to face and overcome one’s fears. And so I'll think, "What are my fears and where do I need strength?” and I'll ask for Gabriel's help.
To my western side, in the back of me, I invoke the angel Raphael. In Hebrew, Raphael means "the healer of God." And the west is the gate of death and rebirth--this is very much like the "medicine wheel" of Native American culture. And the guardian of the western gates is Raphael. So if there's particular healing I need--physical healing or emotional healing--I'll ask Raphael for that. But I'll also think about what's dying away in my life so that something new can be born, and I'll ask for illumination or help about that thing.
The last angel would be directly to my left and that's the northern side and that's Michael. In Hebrew, Michael means "how like unto God" and is the energy of wisdom and of love. In the Native American tradition, the north is "the great frozen lakes of winter." You look in that lake and it allows you to have a mirror of your life--to get insight on the meaning of your life, to reflect deeply on things. So that's what I'll do: spend a moment or two reflecting on my life, and if there's something I really feel I need some more insight on, or true wisdom about, I will ask for the help of Michael.
The last part of the ancient Jewish practice is that after the invocation of the four angels, one is supposed to imagine the light of the Shekinah, the "divine principle of God," and that is everything created by the feminine, the nurturing, the womblike aspect of God. And you imagine that washing over you--washing over you and pouring through you. As all my own negativity and doubt wash away, I imagine my heart becoming lighter and lighter and lighter and expanding to encase me in an egg of light, which interweaves with the light of the divine. That's how I start my meditation every morning, and then I just sit in that divine presence for a period of time afterward as the bulk of my meditation.
Rex Hauck: Are you aware of angelic presence throughout the day?
Joan Borysenko: Definitely. And let me tell you, I was surprised by this initially.I started to do this practice and almost immediately I became aware of presences around the different sides of my body during the day. I'm frequently aware of the presence of Michael to my left, and I find particularly, if somebody says something in conversation that I should really take note of--or if I'm reading something that I should really take note of--I feel almost not a tapping on my shoulder, but a sense of the presence moving really closer, a sense of "pay attention!" And when I find myself afraid of something, some old fear coming up, I'll consciously call upon Gabriel. Or if I find that I am totally confused, I'll call upon Uriel. Or if I feel that I'm emotionally ragged, or if I have a headache, I'll call upon Raphael. It has become a very important part of my daily life.