Q: I heard or read somewhere that angels are not the beautiful beings depicted in art. Even though they have beautiful souls and heavenly missions, physically they are ugly, repulsive creatures that you really would not want to see. Do you believe there is any truth to this?

A: The Bible records many awesome appearances of angelic beings that might incline one to believe that at least some of the heavenly messengers are not the beautiful entities depicted in art or in the accounts of the men and women who have reported angelic encounters. The "living creatures" described by Ezekiel and identified as cherubim, guardians of the throne of God, certainly border on the grotesque as judged by contemporary human standards.

As the Old Testament prophet beheld them, each had four faces, that of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Regardless of whether Ezekiel actually saw four separate visages on a single head or was simply using metaphorical language to describe a single face that reflected the attributes of human, lion, ox, and eagle, the cherubim in the prophet's vision would have had us trembling in fear and, yes, revulsion.

The figures seen by Ezekiel are suggestive of the lamassu, the ancient Mesopotamian spiritual guardians, which are described as rather grotesque creatures that often appear as lions or bulls with human faces and large wings. Such images were often placed at the entrances of temples to ward off evil. Although from our perspective and acculturation, we may consider the lamassu to be ugly monstrous beings, the people of Mesopotamia cherished them as accessible guardian spirits and didn`t seem to mind their appearance in the slightest.

The prophet Daniel probably felt he was in no position to complain about the looks of the angel who may have spared him from death in the lions' den. While we have no physical description of the angel who kept the great beasts at bay, Daniel did perceive a heavenly messenger shortly afterward at the Tigris River. This being wore linen and a solid gold belt and had a face like lightning, eyes like flaming fires, and a voice like the roar of a crowd. That angel, too, might well cause us to scatter in fear and hide, just as Daniel's companions did.

How would we really know when an angel appears to us? Read more on page 2 >>

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We readily concede we'd much prefer to encounter the lovely angels portrayed in religious art--or in the old popular television series "Touched by an Angel." We doubt that any human being has ever seen the angelic beings as they themselves appear to each other. For one thing, angels are spiritual, rather than physical, entities, created to serve God. Throughout our many years of research and our interviews with hundreds of people who have claimed angelic contact, it has seemed to us that angels always take a form that is most acceptable to whomever they are appearing.

We long ago came to believe that the physical appearance of the manifesting angels depends almost completely upon the witnesses' personal cosmology--their religious background, cultural biases, level of spiritual evolution. Therefore, even in this technological, scientific age, a person of a conservative or fundamentalist religious persuasion may behold angels in their traditional winged and robed personas, while a member of a more liberal religious expression may be more likely to perceive an angel minus the wings and other sacerdotal trappings. On the other hand, even those who consider themselves avant-garde may still cherish the traditional and comforting angelic images.

Throughout the years of our research, we have continued to be impressed by the remarkable adaptability of the guardian angels. In one instance, an angel could be the fireman who carried smoke inhalation victims to safety and who later cannot be found by grateful survivors. In another situation, one may be the traffic cop who prevented a fender-bender during rush hour from becoming a 12-car pileup with inevitable casualties and fatalities--and who then disappears before the real officers arrive on the scene.

Sometimes they are ordinary men and women who just happen to be there at the right time to listen with an attentive ear and offer the right words of advice to prevent a troubled soul from taking his or her life.

Of one thing we are certain: If an angel should appear to you, you will perceive the heavenly messenger in a way most acceptable and understandable to you.

So forget those stories of angels being ugly creatures with beautiful souls and hearts of gold, and focus on the gentler, more attractive image of angels as depicted in our religious and cultural traditions. You'll be happier meeting a smiling angel than a scowling lamassu.

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