When People With Schizophrenia See Angels

Marc-Chagall-stained-glas-001There is a fine line between religious experience and mental illness.

If you’ve seen an angel, you are probably not likely to share that story carelessly. But I know people who have seen one or more angels. Some of the angels were floating. One angel was a barefoot tobacco farmer. Such stories have come to me from believers and non-believers alike.

Sophy Burnham is still a popular speaker on the topic among all kinds of church people as well as Spiritual But Not Religious types. She once spoke at a church where I was the pastor and that event still ranks among the best attended class in that congregation’s history. People came From Everywhere. For all I know, maybe there were angels in attendance that day too.

We followers of Jesus know Bible stories about Gabriel and Michael and maybe we can recite verses about guardian angels and reporters at an empty tomb. But some of us are skeptical of those who see angels in the 21st Century – especially when the angel seers are mentally ill.

Thamsanqa Jantjie – the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s funeral – says that he saw angels descending in the stadium. “Sometimes I will see things that chase me,” he said. Mr. Jantjie is a person with schizophrenia and untrained in the field of sign language interpretation.

So here’s what I believe in this season when angels factor quite a bit into our story: They don’t chase us. They report information (“Behold, I bring you good news of great joy.“) Both mentally ill people and mentally healthy people see them – or at least we think we do. I’m not sure what Mr. Jantjie saw, but it doesn’t sound like angels.

Angels bless us. They help us. They tell us not to be afraid. This is what I still believe even on Friday the 13th.

Image from a stained glass window in All Saints Tudeley Church, Kent, UK.

Note: thank you to SW for helpful corrections.

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3 responses to “When People With Schizophrenia See Angels

  1. Small point–the PC is people with schizophrenia rather than schizophrenics.

  2. godismyshadow

    Angels occur in dreams, in paintings and as rumors. Angels never occur in reality because angels are not real. As Mortimer Adler wrote, “Angels are minds without bodies.” They have no physical form whatsoever.

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