“I need angels, I need angels
I lost my wings, can’t fly
Save me with grace
I need angels, I need angels
I lost my wings, can’t fly
Give me some faith.”
This is from a song by the all-Indigenous roots-rock band, Midnight Shine. The singer, Adrian Sutherland of the Attawapiskat First Nation, wrote the song “I Need Angels” after returning home from his annual spring hunt and discovering there had been a rash of suicides and suicide attempts among the children and youth in the village – almost one per day in the month he’d been gone.
This is a familiar story in Indigenous communities, alongside other manifestations of intergenerational trauma. Suicide rates for Indigenous youth are 5 to 7 times higher than non-Indigenous youth. Among the Inuit, one of the northernmost Indigenous groups in Canada, they are some of the highest in the world at 11 times the national average. The legacy of institutional racism, genocide, mass incarceration, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls leaves deep scars on Indigenous lives in Canada.
Adrian is candid about his mixed feelings about the song, saying that talking about the issue in the wake of the song’s release is incredibly draining. But then, he says, he’ll receive a note from someone who talks about how much the song has touched them, or saved their lives, and it helps him keep going. As the beautiful music video for the song winds to a close, the image fades on a written quote from him, white letters against a black background: “No I won’t be giving up.”
He sings, “There’s a sadness inside of me no one can see / I don’t know how to run away or break these chains / It’s a darkness I don’t want taking my light / it won’t leave me alone like a dark shadow / I need angels, I need angels.”
As we begin National Truth and Reconciliation Week, I’m struck by the unfortunate timing of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. For many, particularly in this church which was so very important to her, she was a symbol of steadfast hope and gentleness for over 70 years. But for so many others, the legacy of the British crown’s colonialism – her legacy – casts a dark shadow. Residential schools still operated in 1952 when she was crowned, and continued to operate for over half of her reign, with the last one closing in 1996.
As the Church mourns the loss of the queen, we do well to ask ourselves hard questions of who we want to be as a church in the years to come. If she represented resilience, kindness, and gentleness to us, how do we want to embody that in our world, as individuals, as Anglicans, and as Canadians, now that she is gone?
I’m reminded of a moment during 2019’s painful General Synod, when, paraphrasing another delegate, our former primate Fred Hiltz said quietly, “Our children are crying.”
The spirits of Indigenous children still being brought forth from the earth are crying. But it is not only those children who are crying.
38% of Indigenous children in Canada live in poverty, compared to 7% of non-Indigenous children. They are crying.
Indigenous children make up 7.7% of the child population in Canada and yet represent 52.2% of the children in foster care, kept from their families and traditional cultures. They are crying.
Indigenous youth are eight times more likely to be incarcerated in juvenile facilities than non-Indigenous youth. They are crying.
They need angels.
The work of reconciliation will be the work of many generations, for the damage done was done over many generations. A Palestinian friend once told me, “Open your heart to the biggest size of it.” Only when we have as many tears for those who die alone and hidden as we have for our heroes will we truly understand what reconciliation means. Only then will we truly learn what it means to stand at the foot of the Cross as witnesses and not scatter as our Lord’s disciples once did.
We need angels.
Most of you may know that the word “angel” means “messenger.” We get our English word from the Greek word “angelos.” The word the Hebrew Bible uses is “malak,” the same word used for human messengers, but we know that angels are different because of the reactions people have to them in the text. The first thing most angels say upon seeing a person is, “Do not be afraid,” which suggests they must look scary, but sometimes they are simply described as “men,” like the three guests who approached Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre, or the visitors hosted by Lot at Sodom. Again, we only know they are more than men by the reactions of those who see them: in those cases, extreme hospitality, suggesting that both Lot and Abraham recognized they were more than mortal.
Midnight Shine singer Adrian calls on angels to save him from the dark shadow of depression. Their connection to the divine as messengers of God’s favour and as warriors against evil makes them a fair candidate for this role. Michael is commonly depicted as trampling Satan under his feet. Gabriel is a herald of God’s incarnation among us. Angels are also heralds of Jesus’ resurrection, surely the best news creation has ever received. They bring hope for the future.
In this way, we can see how missing and murdered Indigenous children have become angels, calling us from beyond death to create a different kind of Kingdom, one that’s never existed on earth before, one where no child from any language, people, tribe, or nation, is unloved or separated from those who love them.
But perhaps the greatest news about angels is that they can exist among us without being seen – until we do see them, and like Jacob and Nathanael are filled with awe. Surely all of us have experienced one of those moments when our hearts caught within our ribcages because we thought we heard the ruffle of unseen feathers in a holy place.
Adrian in his vulnerability called out his need for angels…but in doing so, surely for some people he became an angel, speaking his own truth to provide a holy space for others to seek peace.
What would it look like for each of us to go forth from this place today on the hunt for Bethel? What would it look like to consider that sometimes, perhaps without our knowing, Bethel is within us? Maybe within us there is a stone waiting to be consecrated in an early dusk, a stone really more like the foot of a ladder, upon which angels ascend and descend, using us to run wild over the earth?
I believe there is one within me.
I believe there is one within you.
Let’s make Jacob’s dream a reality.
I’ll close with a prayer from rememberingthechildren.ca
God of our Ancestors, who holds the spirits of our grandmothers and grandfathers and the spirits of our grandchildren,
Remembering the Children, we now pledge ourselves to speak the Truth, and with our hearts and our souls to act upon the Truth we have heard of the injustices lived, of the sufferings inflicted, of the tears cried, of the misguided intentions imposed, and of the power of prejudice and racism which were allowed to smother the sounds and laughter of the forgotten children.
Hear our cries of lament for what was allowed to happen, and for what will never be.
In speaking and hearing and acting upon the Truth may we as individuals and as a nation meet the hope of a new beginning.
Great Creator God who desires that all creation live in harmony and peace,
Remembering the Children we dare to dream of a Path of Reconciliation where apology from the heart leads to healing of the heart and the chance of restoring the circle, where justice walks with all, where respect leads to true partnership, where the power to change comes from each heart.
Hear our prayer of hope, and guide this country of Canada on a new and different path.