Entertaining Angels Unaware

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Heb. 13.2

Don’t you love the stories where a stranger knocks on the door to tell you just what you need to do to save a situation–or a life?   I tell of several in A Book of Angels, one, around 1906, concerned a little girl dying of scarlet fever. She was so sick that her little coffin and white shroud was ready. One day a knock came at the door. The maid answered. “You can’t come in. The house is quarantined.”

“I’m a doctor,” said the stranger, giving his name and the township where he lived. “Go to the backyard and pluck a tail-feather from the rooster.” (In those days everyone kept chickens in their yards.) “Wrap the child’s throat in hot, wet flannel, and when she coughs, pull out the phlegm in her throat with the feather. She will live.” He went away, and the little girl’s father did as directed. She recovered. But that’s not all.

A few weeks later her father hitched up the horse and drove to the nearby town to thank the good doctor, only to be told that the man had died several  years before. As for the little girl, to the end of her days, and she lived into her nineties, she kept the tiny shroud in which she should have been buried. And who was the doctor, an angel? A spirit? A guide?

Now a new story has come my way, about a war-refugee in Germany during the War.

I can’t do better than to quote the writer, Anne.

“ At the age of three, I fell out of my crib and broke my collarbone and arm. My mother took me to the hospital, where I was X-rayed. My mother was told my collarbone was eaten away by cancer, that I would not live.

“I was kept in the hospital for 13 weeks, and I remember it vividly, because almost every night I dreamt I was holding back two boulders with my little hands, to keep from being crushed.

“Eventually I came home, my arm and shoulder in a cast. I had no idea I was destined to die, but everyone else including my mother knew. One day a lady came to the door of our one-room apartment. She said her name was Mrs. Fischer and that she lived in Schoellang, nearby. To this day I remember her: she wore a long black coat. She had pale skin, almost translucent, black hair cut in bangs across her forehead and a slight, dark moustache. She instructed my mother to take me to a particular pediatrician in Sonthofen, Germany. I remember how when she gazed at me deeply, I felt. . funny. I can’t describe it, but I can see her clearly to this day.

“In Sonthofen, the pediatrician ordered new X-rays and discovered a bone splinter lodged between my heart and lung. I was operated on the same day.”

And then comes the ending that we hear so often: “We went to Schellang to find Mrs. Fischer. But there was no one by that name registered anywhere nearby. It’s a common name, and wouldn’t you think it would appear in some church registry?”

I hear these stories and take heart. Life is very hard. I need to be reminded again and again — because I forget —  we sometimes entertain angels unawares, and sometimes  they take form to help us in disguise. Now you see them, now you don’t.


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