Robert Kinghorn: Angelic forces hard at work on the street

  • October 17, 2019

There is a sense that protection is required when we step out into the unknown darkness of life, whether it be the darkness of suffering or of a lifestyle tinged with fear and regret. Traditionally the Church has called upon the angelic hosts for such protection. 

When I was training in spiritual direction I wanted to focus on spiritual direction with those on the streets and the fringes of society, so I took a two-year course at Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre in Niagara Falls. 

It covered a broad range of spiritualities and faith experiences I might meet on the street. One of them was native spirituality and when the mentor heard of my ministry she suggested that I find my animal spirit which would protect me. 

Now, I have always been happy enough with the angelic hosts, but in order to understand this spiritual tradition I agreed to let her suggest an animal spirit. As it happened my animal spirit is a bear, which quite frankly I was happy with since it could have been a frog, and I have always been uneasy with the idea of a spirit which I can outrun. 

The sense of angelic and demonic forces is strong on the street and they often come up in the conversations with those I meet. 

One evening I was accompanied by Dion Oxford, the former executive director of Salvation Army Gateway, a shelter for men experiencing homelessness, who commented that he was always challenged by the reality that angels have for the people on the street. As if on cue we met Tanya, who saw my collar and stopped to talk. 

She vented her frustration at the types of men that have come into her life and she expressed it in colourful, incisive language. “If there were 1,000 men in a room and one a--hole, I would select him. But I always pray to God to send an angel to protect me and tonight you are my angel to remind me of this protection.”

Recently I was stopped by a man who was lingering on one of the streets where drugs are plentiful. As I turned around his 6-foot-6 frame engulfed me with a menacing shadow in the streetlight. 

He asked what I was about and what I was doing on a street like this. When I explained the ministry of presence to him as best I could, he pulled my hands towards him and said, “God bless you for this. I want to pray for you.” 

With that he launched into a prayer of thanksgiving to the Father for sending me to the street as an angel of mercy, and he ended with a prayer of petition asking the Father to bless me and my family and to send angels to protect me wherever I go downtown. 

His parting words were, “I am not asking for money, just that God will bless you.” 

With that he gave me an enormous bear-hug as he bent down and encapsulated my upturned face. Much later that same evening I again passed him on the street, but by this time he had injected his “fix” for the evening and he walked by me with no recognition, just a vacant stare. The angelic presence had been replaced by the demons of the night.   

It’s the vacant look on people’s faces that I find the hardest on the street. Sitting, standing, shouting, passed out, it’s the vacant look which often betrays the personal demons they are facing in a lonely fight against reality. 

I feel helpless and often I am never quite sure whether to approach or stand my distance as I pray for their angelic protection to once again hold sway. 

Later that evening I came across one such lady that I know well and who risks her life daily, darting into traffic to ask drivers for money. She was slumped in a corner and I approached her limp body huddled away from the cold. “Hello Joan, it’s Deacon Robert, I’ll pray for you tonight.”

Fr. Richard Rohr, in his talk “Faith in Exile” said, “The only cure for possession is possession. If we are possessed by the world and its culture, the only cure is to possess Jesus — a greater truth, a greater possession. This is the whole spiritual journey. We have to be re-possessed by Jesus so we can let go of our demons and replace them with angels.” 

This, and our faithful and faith-filled presence, can call others back to the joy of the Gospel.

(Kinghorn is a deacon of the Archdiocese of Toronto: robert.kinghorn@ekinghorn.com)

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