Sunday, February 19, 2012

little angels and my demons

last week - or maybe the week before, i went to a screening of "little angels," a series of books and dvds for young children. it was created and narrated by roma downey, the irish actress from "touched by an angel." the screening was at the chic, ultramodern four seasons hotel on 57th street, they served us a beautiful buffet lunch on silver platters. the room was filled with "mommy bloggers," children and babies.

i was especially interested in the project for several reasons. the main one being my obsession with the irishwoman lorna byrne, whose book, angels in my hair, is all about her interactions with angels. all of a sudden, i seem to be meeting irishwomen who know the names of all the angels (are they more connected than us?)

while i'd always thought the idea of angels and guardian angels was sweet and pleasant, sort of like flower fairies, i never took it very seriously.

sometime last month, i had a crazy, hallucinogenic, rollercoaster of an experience with a psychic who also spoke to angels, though in a more subtle way. it was shocking and unnerving, so i started to take the idea more seriously.

what interested me most about all these encounters was the number of spiritual traditions that have angels - muslims, christians and jews all talk about the abrahamic angels, gabriel, michael, izrail... hindus and buddhists have apsaras and devas, spiritual beings who behave similarly to angels. and, of course, lorna byrne expressing her message from the angels - that people of different faiths and backgrounds begin to pray together.

from what i understand, the idea of the sweet "little angels" series is passing on moral and emotional guidance to young children and letting them know that they are loved. the stories of the modern-day children are interspersed with bible stories that explain the principles being taught, like perseverance, empathy and cooperation and belief in a higher power.

at the screening, i raised my hand and asked roma how the series dealt with different faith traditions.

roma said, "we don't. this is very christian-based, though of course, kindness and sharing are good lessons for everyone."

then, of course, a number of other parents chimed in and expressed their appreciation that she was passing on christian values and messages. i should add that, though the human children in the story are caucasian, the angels (which look like little children with wings) are multicultural. the show is very cute and watchable. my two year-old nephew, omaid, loved it. and he loves veggie tales, too.

so i sat there transposing the idea into my own muslim-interfaith-centric point-of-view. i asked myself some questions. for instance, if muslim stories (most of which are actually christian and jewish stories, too, because islam comes from the abrahamic tradition) were presented for children with no interfaith perspective, would i be bothered? is the message from the allegories enough?

was my reaction bigotry or prejudice on my part?

i hope not.

my concerns were this. one, there are already a lot of books and tv shows for children, veggie tales, for instance, or davey and goliath or gumby that express a christian or biblical perspective in a friendly, appealing way (LOVED those when i was little). two, there are also good muslim, jewish, christian and hindu versions of character and moral-building stories illustrated by religious texts.

and three, while i don't know of any modern animation specific to angels in our midst, the idea of angels/devas/apsaras, especially guardian angels, is something that is told to young children all over the world.

i value the idea of letting children know that there are spiritual beings that exist and connect them to something greater but somehow, i felt like "little angels" was too small, too limited. it reminded me a little of timmy and his fairy godparents, the fairly odd parents, except that the angels don't grant wishes and the stories are more reverent and Bible-based.

in my mind, i feel like we need to teach our children how the angels are connected to us - but also how we are connected to everyone and everything else. that Divine energy runs through all of us, that there is no separation. that LOVE really is everything.

while a faith tradition is important, we need to remember that it is culture, like clothing, a language, a skin color. it is something that serves a purpose, but while it looks or sounds different, it all has the same value, the same reason.

underneath, we are all the same.

feeling unsatisfied, i approached roma at the end of the screening. i introduced myself and told her what a great project it was.

she said, "thank you so much. you're a muslim? i've met your king."

i must have looked blank (who knew there was a king of all the muslims?) so she added, "king abdullah... and his lovely wife."

i muttered, "king abdullah of jordan, oh..."

she seemed to realize i was lost and said, "what country do you come from?"

i said something about my ethnic origin being indian and she said she had been there and then our conversation collapsed a bit.

i asked her how they might address the interfaith issues and she said, "we don't plan to. we are in wal-mart all over the united states starting today and we feel mainstream christians are a much bigger audience."

she said it kindly, not dismissively. she was clearly trying to be approachable so it didn't seem like a good place to argue my point. but i was disappointed. if the series really reaches young christian children all over the united states - maybe even all over the world - how much more powerful the message could be,

how much more powerful the lasting implications of telling young children that we are all one.

people who've told me they speak to angels always clarify, angels are different than humans. we don't become each other. angels don't become babies and people who've passed into the next world don't turn into angels.

as humans, i am told, we are actually much greater than angels, our light is brighter and more able to impact each other and the physical world.

and as children, as everyone from educators to scientists to psychics will tell you, our creative powers are at their peak.

in my mind, the idea should be to find a way for young children to hold on their innate knowledge without reducing it to a single faith or tradition or culture. without being too cute or cheesy or hokey or predictable. keeping somehow the magical, ethereal nature of what we need to communicate.

is that impossible? or are we just not there yet?

time to walk the dog.

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