Charles was at the MetroCentre for the first time since his wife Helen died of cancer.  They used to come here regularly for shopping or to go to the cinema and have a coffee or a meal.  It had so many memories, that he just kept away after she died.  Now he needed new clothes, and there was no choice but to go.  But it wasn’t going to be easy.

He went upstairs and passed by Collectables – this was before it went into liquidation the other day. This was a particularly poignant moment. Helen and her sister Denise loved going to Collectables.  He remembered that time that Denise bought Helen a little angel clip for her jacket – it was just after she had been diagnosed.

“The angel will look after you”, she had said.  But it didn’t.  She died anyway.  And the expensive Swarovski angel that Denise gave her for her room didn’t do any good either.

Charles pulled himself together, went straight to the menswear shop and out of Centre as soon as he could.  There were roadworks along the Western Bypass, which meant he had to drive further than normal, so that he came off at the Gateshead Angel.  By this time, he was feeling very bitter about angels.  He pulled in off the road because his eyes were welling up.  He stomped out of the car and up to the Angel of the North.

It was a grey, miserable day, and for once, the Angel was standing alone.  Charles came and stood at his feet and shouted at him:

“Why did you let Helen die? Why couldn’t you just save her for me? What kind of angel are you anyway, if you’re not going to protect the people who believe in you? If this is the way you treat your friends, what do you do to your enemies? Who are you, anyway?”

There was no answer.  Eventually, Charles pulled himself together and got back in the car.  He was still thinking about the angel as he drove home, and was barely conscious of the drive itself.

He stopped the car and got out.  And looked around.  And he didn’t know where he was.  He was supposed to be at home, but home wasn’t there, nor the street, nor the familiar features, nor nothing.  But a man was coming towards him through the mist.

“Hello Charles!” said the man in white. “You’re feeling pretty hurt and angry just now. I can understand that.  And you asked who we are.  If it’s OK with you, I would like to show you. And it may help, just a bit.”

Charles just stood, open-mouthed.  The angel took him by the hand.  “This way”, he said.

The next minute, they were in a place that looked like a grand and busy office, full of angels all around.

“This is where we receive the prayers from earth and bring them before God”, said the angel. “You can see there that the biggest pile of prayers is the requests for healing.”

Charles looked at the large table heaped high.  Some prayers were very beautiful and elaborate, and some were scrappy and short and badly spelled. But each one was treated with love and care by the angels that were sorting them.

“Every prayer is looked at personally”, said the angel.  “Every prayer is important.”

“But why don’t you answer them all, then?” Charles was still feeling cross.

“They are answered”, said the angel, “but not always in the way you want or expect.  Your Helen did find healing, but for her, true healing came with death.  She has new life now.”

“So there are no miracles, then?” said Charles.

“Yes, there are miracles.  You see that big bright archangel over there?  His name is Raphael, and he is head of the healing angels. Take the guy who used to work for Durham Diocese. He was dying of cancer, took ill-health retirement, and now the cancer has gone and he is doing really well. It happens.  Come on, more to see.”

“You could say that this is the command-post”, said the angel as he swept Charles into the next area.  And it certainly looked like it.  In the centre was a large round table like a huge flat computer screen showing everything that was going on earth.  Though the room was calm, there was an air of concentration.  Sometimes angels seemed to swim into the great screen.

“We all work for God, of course,” said Charle’s angel, “all of us.  Those angels are taking messages to people from God. You see that large blue angel over there?  That’s Gabriel.”

“Really?” said Charles.  “He doesn’t look anything like all those pictures we see.”

“They never do”, said the angel.

The next room was huge.  It was labelled “Arrivals and Departures”.  There was a large group of angels and other beings round a fountain of water.

The angel told Charles: “Those angels and helper souls are bringing the souls of the babies and children and adults who are being baptised.  They are washing them in the water of eternal life and then restoring them to the person on earth. The guardian angels help with that.”

Charles said, “I knew this old lady once whose mother had a dream the day before she died that everything would be OK, because she was going to be carrying the babies being baptised to heaven and back again.”

“People think that being baptised is just a ritual washing with earthly water,” said the angel, “but it is more than that, a spiritual act, a sacrament.”

At the other end of the room, the angels were arriving with the souls of people who had died.  They too were being helped by others.

“So this is where Helen came”, said Charles.  “I wish I could see her now.”

“You will,” said the angel, “when your time comes. She will be first in line to help you.  But you still have work to do on earth.”

The angel led Charles onto a balcony.  They could see the whole earth, and at the same time, they could see everything happening on earth.  Charles could see the places where there was conflict, and he could see the pain and anguish.  He could see children dying of hunger, and people dying without medical care even when they could be saved.  There was a clatter and a clash. Charles looked up.

In the skies above was a whole other world, a battle between the forces of good and evil.

“That is the spiritual battle,” said the angel, “the mirror of what is happening on earth.  See that large red angel?  He is Michael, and he leads the holy, heavenly armies against all that is evil.”

“That doesn’t really affect me,” said Charles.  “I’m just an ordinary person.”

“But it does, you know,” said the angel.  “The good you do helps to win the battle.  And every time you are cruel or selfish, you sap away the energy of light.”

“I never knew that”, said Charles.

“There is a whole lot more,” said the angel, “and you will find out one day, but that is enough for just now.  Has that helped any?”

“I feel easier about where Helen is and what she went through, though I miss her terribly. I know the universe is a whole lot bigger than I ever thought. And I know there are angels busy all the time beyond my sight or experience.  And somehow I am a part of it all, even though I feel so small.”

“That’s fine,” said the angel.  As he let go of Charles hand, he seemed to fade and the ordinary world became visible again, Charles’ house and street, and all that was familiar.

“But who are you?” asked Charles as the angel faded from sight.

“I am your guardian angel,” came the distant voice, “and I am always here for you.”