Have you ever had an encounter with an angel? What were the circumstances? Did it change your life?
Over a period of 20 years pastor Peter Schulthess placed a series of adverts in Swiss newspapers aimed at finding out whether the heavenly messengers are still active in today’s secular society.
The responses he received, and his own experiences, convinced him they were. At his parish church in Pfäffikon, the down-to-earth pastor spoke to swissinfo.ch about his new book on ordinary people who believe their lives have been touched by angels.
Wie Engel Begleiten (Accompanied by Angels) seeks to find parallels between people’s experiences today and the accounts of angelic activity reported in the Bible.
The book tells of dramatic rescues, words of warning and comfort and visions of wings outstretched in protection. But it also tells of angels in human form: people who are there in the right place and the right time to help others.
swissinfo.ch: In early March a driver was unscathed in a rockfall which sent a 40kg lump of rock crashing through his car windscreen. The papers said he had a guardian angel. What do you think?
Peter Schulthess: The Bible tells us everyone has his own angel. We call these guardian angels, but there’s a problem there because they don’t always protect us. So I prefer to say that we are accompanied through life by angels, which may protect us but don’t always because they follow God’s will.
swissinfo.ch: What you see as the work of angels could just be pure chance?
P.S.: Of course you can see it as chance. It is a question of interpretation, or of faith. If someone thinks that God is always by their side, then even if it is chance that saves them from an accident, they are still going to thank God.
swissinfo.ch: From the way you describe angel activity in your book, it seems they do a lot more than just offer protection?
P.S.: That is very important. I think the main task of angels is to bring us into contact with our source, our origin, God, and that they teach us to live by love.
swissinfo.ch: Why do some people experience angels and others don’t. Do you have to have faith?
P.S.: Absolutely not. Whether a person experiences angels or not is often a question of whether they are open to interpreting their experiences in that way. But I think everyone does experience the involvement of angels in their life.
swissinfo.ch: The stories you have collected are very diverse. Some people talk about angels in human form, others about heavenly beings with outspread wings, yet others experience angels as light. How do you explain that?
P.S.: I think heaven has a whole range of ways of communicating with us. It’s the same for us: some of us write letters, others text messages or emails. So heaven communicates with us in the ways that we can recognise or understand best.
swissinfo.ch: Do you believe all the stories you were told?
P.S.: I trust the people who share their stories with me, that what they are telling me did occur. I would not necessarily interpret these occurrences in the same way as they do, but I don’t judge them.
What is important is that in almost all cases the events described are life-changing: life never goes on in the same way as before. They mark a turning point.
swissinfo.ch: Do you have a favourite story?
P.S.: One of my favourites is about the boy in the blue jacket at Zurich station. He appears out of nowhere, without saying a word leads a blind man to a seat in the train and then vanishes. I find it wonderful to think there are angels right in the centre of Zurich in the middle of the main railway station. Whether it was really an angel or not, I don’t know. But there is something very heart-warming about the story.
swissinfo.ch.: You also talk about your own experiences with angels. How did they affect you?
P.S.: The first occurrence, when I was newly qualified as a pastor, was decisive for my calling. I was very disillusioned and despondent, because a series of lectures I was giving about Christianity didn’t appear to be having much of an echo. I seemed to be hitting a wall. I was on the point of returning to my previous job as a logistics manager. Then in prayer I “saw” a vision of the church where I was preaching surrounded by angels. That gave me a lot of encouragement. This experience opened my eyes to angels.
swissinfo.ch.: You argue that this life is a type of ‘angelic schooling’. What do you mean by that?
P.S.: It means that we are learning to live like angels, in love, peace, joy, treating each other well, being helpful and forgiving.
Angel school is a very hard school of learning, which changes our character. I used to wonder how we can be one thing here and another in heaven. Now I think we have to learn it.
swissinfo.ch: And after death we would then become angels?
P.S.: I think that’s very likely, even if it’s very controversial theologically. I can very well imagine that we were angels, who were just separated from God, and are now on our way back. It’s just a theory, but to me it makes sense.
Morven McLean, swissinfo.ch
Stories from the book
A man was on an excursion to the Black Forest with his wife, who was wheelchair bound, and another elderly person.
The plan was to go up the Feldberg peak in a cable car. The weather was good. At the top they enjoyed the wonderful view as far as the Swiss Alps.
But suddenly a storm got up and huge drops of rain began to fall. Lightening began to strike all around them.
The woman recounted: “I looked at my husband and to my amazement I saw a huge angel with one wing spread out above us. His wing completely covered us.”
After a while the cable car started up again and they were able to return to the bottom. On the way down they saw sun umbrellas and tables overturned by the floods of rainwater.
“Despite the heavy rain our clothes were practically dry,” the woman said. “We looked at each other and could find no explanation.”
A woman of about 20 was on a bus in Winterthur. She was pregnant by a married man who had demanded that she have an abortion, something she would not do. It was clear she was going to have to raise the child herself.
“I was in despair and sad, and completely at my wits’ end,” she related. “The bus stopped and an elderly, rather scruffy man boarded. He smelled strongly of alcohol and had a red nose. He looked at me briefly then laid a hand on my stomach and said, ‘you will make a good mother’. Then he got out at the next stop.
"I should point out that it was very early on in the pregnancy and you couldn’t see anything. This experience gave me amazing comfort and made me convinced that with the support of my parents and friends I would be a good mother to my child. My daughter is now 15 and I am still grateful to the angel for turning up at such a difficult time.”