Being servants of love and peace, the angels rejoice over our repentance (cf. Luke 15:7) and our progress in holiness. Hence they try to develop spiritual contemplation within us and they cooperate with us in the achieving of every form of blessing.
~ St. Theodore the Great Ascetic,
A Century of Spiritual Texts 20
Through the generosity of a coworker, Kelly and I got to go on a free date last night! We went to see the Grand Rapids Symphony perform a variety of pieces from Stravinsky to Mozart to Mendelssohn and including some original work by a young composer a year younger than myself. As part of the program, he was there and was able to comment on his two contributions, bringing further life into an already vibrant performance. In addition, there was a very talented pianist (a full five years younger than me!) who performed beautifully on the Mendelssohn piece that closed the night. On the few occasions that I have been blessed to attend the symphony, I always find my mind wondering to reflect on what a great illustration it is for our spiritual life.
One ancient definition of the soul is “that which animates” something, whether itself or a body of some kind (hence, ancient Christians believed that plants and animals had souls as well—because they are self-moved—just not rational, human souls). This is reflected in the Latin word for the soul, anima. What I always think about at the symphony is how the soul of the conductor moves his hands to direct the musicians. The musicians follow his cues and animate not only their bodies, but their instruments through their bodies as an extension of their souls and, ultimately, of the conductor. The audience, finally, listens, and through their ears allows their own souls to be moved. Thus, each person cooperates together to become an extension of the conductor’s action; it is a true symphony, a “sounding together” (from the Greek sym meaning “together” and phonos meaning “sound”).
The result of the whole experience, at its best, is a coordinated production of and participation in beauty. According to St. Theodore, the angels “cooperate with us in the achieving of every form of blessing.” Our spiritual life is meant (“composed,” we might say) to be a heavenly symphony of spiritual cooperation: our souls with our bodies, our lives with each other, the angels with humanity and humanity with the world, and through us, the world with God. Indeed, dogmatically speaking, Christians have always affirmed that the Holy Trinity has a oneness of will between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that the angels likewise act in one accord. When we set right the relationship between our souls and bodies, then we have the self-control necessary to stand in right relation to others, to the world, to the angels, and to God, in imitation of, partaking of, the divine. The Hebrew word for righteous, tsaddiq, even carries the connotation of standing in right relation. It is symphony as opposed to cacophony.
Thankfully, we are not alone. “Being servants of love and peace,” says St. Theodore, “the angels rejoice over our repentance (cf. Luke15:7) and our progress in holiness. Hence they try to develop spiritual contemplation within us and they cooperate with us in the achieving of every form of blessing.” The angels sound together with us as we, in spirit, make our lives into beautiful music with the heavens and the earth, and the God who made us all.