Angels

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Euro Grad Trip 2002 with Archie and Kelvin

Technology is a wonderful thing.  Ever since I found out that I could borrow audiobooks from the Mississauga Library on my phone, I knew my 1 hour plus long commute (one way) would be more bearable.  The latest book I've read was The Angel Effect by John Geiger.  I picked it randomly from a list books that were not on hold at the moment.  It turned out to be a fairly good read (er...listen).  It talks about experiences of a "sensed presence" that many refer to as angels.  They typically occur during times of danger, stress, or sadness, and often results in miraculous survival or escape from danger.

I'm not going to be doing a book review here, but I did want to talk about 2 things.  First, in the last chapter of his book, Geiger gives a summary of the topic and there was one section which I found especially interesting.  It talks about the brain versus the mind.  Second, I'd like to share an encounter I had during my grad trip to Europe.

The Brain vs. the Mind
Geiger talked about one of the scientific studies that was done in relation to this sensed presence experience.  In the study, a scientist was able to reproduce this sensation of a sensed presence by stimulating a particular location in the left brain.  This correlates well with the data from most sensed presence occurrences, because a majority of people with these experiences claim to see the "angel" at the right side of their peripheral vision or have a feeling that someone is present just behind the right side of their backs.

At this point, some of us may stop here and dismiss these experiences as purely physical phenomena, where our brains trick us into thinking we're seeing an angel.  If we can isolate the part of the brain that causes this experience, does that not prove it to be something physical, and not spiritual?

In Catholic theology, we believe that the human person is both physical and spiritual. That is, we have a body and a soul.  This is precisely why we believe that at the end of time, our bodies will be resurrected and perfected.  Angels, on the other hand, are purely spiritual. Animals are purely physical.

The intersection between our immaterial soul/mind and our body is the brain.  Geiger sees the brain as a lens into our mind, rather than as being the mind itself.  Our consciousness and mind, through the brain, experiences the physical world.  And so, because there is an inseparable link between the mind and the body, any experience in either realm is manifested in both realms.  For example, when one trips and scrapes his knee, the physical experience is translated, via electrical signals in the brain, into a painful feeling within our consciousness.  Likewise, a purely spiritual experience can manifest itself into physical brain activity.  Therefore, just because this sensed presence phenomenon can be traced to a particular physical activity in the brain, it does not automatically mean the experience was solely a physical one or that the source of this experience was physical. 

I'm quite sure I did a poor job of explaining this, but the point really is this: God created the world in such a manner that He is able to manifest Himself to us, without breaking the laws of this universe.  For example, just because evolution is a product of probability and chance, it does not mean God did not have a hand in shaping the evolution of apes into humans.  In fact, I think this is the beauty in and also the definition of faith.  That is, faith cannot be proven.  God created the world such that He can never be proven to exist.  Otherwise, what merit would we have in believing in something that is true in plain sight?

Encounter with an Angel?
Enough with the philosophical discussion...I  will now tell of the experience I had, which to this day is vivid and also inexplicable.  It definitely does not fall into the same category of experience as the "angel effects", but there is a mystery that surrounds it. 

It happened during my grad trip in 2002.  +Archie Wong and +Kelvin Lai, and I did a whirlwind backpacking trip across Western Europe in 2 weeks.  We spent a few days in Paris, which was one of our last stops.  

Since we were poor university grads back then (I'm now a poor employed professional now), we utilized public transit as much as possible.  One day, while we were at a subway station, heading towards the platform, we heard our subway train approaching it.  There was a flight of stairs between us and the train.  Afraid of missing the subway (don't really remember why we were in such a rush during vacation...), I started running up the stairs.  Since I was still relatively fit in those days, I got to the top of the stairs first, with Archie close behind and Kelvin much farther back (lol... He still smoked at that time).  

That was when I saw a young lady who was standing inside the train, beside the door, looking at us.  The door had been open for some time now and we felt that it was going to close any second.  To my surprise, the young lady stepped out between the doors, as if she was going to keep the door from closing on us.  I got on the train quickly, and as I passed by the lady, I looked at her and said a quick, "Merci".  As I got on the train, I saw Archie do pretty much the same thing as I did.  Kelvin was still taking his sweet time, but eventually, he made it onto the train as well. 

The car that we got on was the first car of the train, and we got on through the door closest to the front.  Therefore, the only place we could go was towards the back of the train. And that was exactly what we did. We walked a few steps towards the back of the train, being still pretty close to the door which we had just gone through.  After we got settled, the train started moving.  At this point in time, we hadn't even had a chance to talk about what just happened, nor was I really thinking about doing that.  What my mind was thinking about was what a nice thing that lady did for us.  In fact, I wanted to get a good look at her.  I looked toward the spot where she was standing (next to the door), but funny, she wasn't there.   She also wouldn't have walked to the back of the car because that's where the three of us were standing.

So, I looked at Archie, and Archie looked at me.  Without even describing what was going through my head, I said to him, "Where did she go?" He looked at me and replied, "I don't know."  It was apparent to the both of us that we were both trying to find the lady who had just helped us.  So, we both turned to Kelvin and asked him if he knew where the lady was.  He said, "What lady?"  "The lady who held the door open for us," I replied.  "I didn't see anyone at the door," was his response.  "How could you not have seen her?  She kept the door open for us," my voice getting a little more excited.

In the end, we couldn't figure out where she had gone.  The only other possibility was that she got off the train after she kept the door open.  But yet, before she had stepped in front of the door, she had no intention of getting off the train; the door had been open for several seconds already.  It just didn't make sense.

But yet, it could make sense.  What if she was an angel, sent by God to protect us from whatever could have happened had she not stood in the way of the door?  But there was no imminent danger.  Worst case scenario is we missed the train or maybe got separated.  It certainly didn't seem like a situation where an angel needed to interject in our daily lives. And why was Kelvin not able to see her, while only Archie and I did?  

I cannot explain the events of that day.  The lady could have been just a really nice Parisian who Kelvin just didn't notice.  But I keep the possibility of her being an angel an open one.  I certainly wouldn't mind having such an experience, but I guess we will never know what really happened... 


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