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Author urges people to notice angelic activity

Saturday, April 08, 2000

By Bill Steigerwald, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Joan Wester Anderson isn't sure, but she thinks she met an angel once.

It happened a few years ago, the day she got in a car wreck. As she sat pinned behind the wheel with a broken foot in the middle of a busy highway, a tall, skinny man calmly leaned in her car window, put her transmission in park and told her to turn off her engine.

Traffic was whizzing and she was worried about him. She kept saying, "You're going to get hurt, there's broken glass."

"No, that's OK," he said. "No one's going to hurt me. The paramedics will be here in about 30 seconds."

Later, as she was being loaded into the ambulance, Anderson asked the police officer to get the man's statement because he was probably a witness to the accident.

"What guy?" said the cop, just like in a bad John Travolta movie.

"The tall kid who was leaning into the driver's side when you pulled up," she said.

"I didn't see anyone but the other driver," he said.

Anderson, who suspects her mysterious friend-in-need was an angel, is a longtime writer, lecturer and believer-in-angels who has become fairly famous in spiritual and secular circles. She's been on every TV and cable talk show from "Oprah!" to the "NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw."

And her 1992 New York Times best-seller, "Where Angels Walk: True Stories of Heavenly Visitors," sold 2 million copies and has been translated into 14 languages.

Anderson, 61 and a grandmother, will speak Sunday afternoon at St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Munhall, where she will explain to a sell-out crowd of 500-plus what angels are, what they do, where they come from and how she became so interested in them.

Q: Does everyone have an angel, or a guardian angel?

A: I believe they do. I'm a Catholic, so the Catholic Church teaching is that they do. Interestingly enough, though, various cultures teach various things. I was once sitting next to a Muslim at a conference on what the various faiths believe and the Muslim told me that they believe everyone has a recording angel and a guardian angel -- two per person.

The recording angel writes down everything you do. I said I was really glad that I wasn't a Muslim because that would intimidate me. He said, "Oh no. We believe that for everyone." So I said, "We'll meet in heaven and duke it out."

Q: How are you so certain that these beings people have encountered are in fact angels and not just passing motorists or Good Samaritans?

A: I think if the whole truth were known, some of them probably are not angels. I've been real careful in my books never to say "this was an angel" because I don't know. My discernment comes in, more or less, in interviewing the people. Are the people truthful? Do they seem to be normal and not wacko?

Q: Sometimes you see these UFO stories, people who are as believable as anyone you know say they've been abducted by aliens. Is that kind of true in angel-sightings, too?

A: I think so. I feel that I am not equipped to make that decision. No one has died and made me pope or God or anything. My job is to more or less chronicle what people say is happening, just as any good reporter would, and to sort of let it hang out there and say to the readers that you can believe this or not.

Q: Do you have to believe in angels in order to be visited by one, or see one?

A: Oh no. Some of the hardest hearts in the world have been changed by angels. That's part of the key. If there was a real angel experience, there should be something different afterward.

You know, like the people who have the near-death experiences and come back and they say they're not afraid of death anymore? It's kind of the same thing with angels.

Q: What do they look like?

A: Again, they don't have any facial features, because they don't have any faces. They've been depicted in art through the centuries as having wings and halos, but that was more to differentiate them from humans in the same painting.

Q: Are there only good angels?

A: No. According to Scripture again, all the angels were created first, as the first act of creation. We know that, because it says they sang and danced when they saw what God had made -- meaning the earth and the planets and all of those things.

So, somehow, before the earth was created or after that, they had a big battle and about one-third were driven out of the kingdom. They became the bad angels, or the devils.

Q: Do they make appearances in our lives, too?

A: Well, certainly yes. They do. That's one reason why we see such imitations of such authentic angels going on. Very often, the evil ones will take part of the truth and misrepresent the rest, so a lot of people are led into things.

Q: Do bad angels do bad things? Hitler, Stalin, Manson -- the many evil things all over the world throughout time -- what roles did bad angels play?

A: Tempting. Basically, they appeal to our pride more than anything else. They can be very seductive and very beautiful. Many of the bad angels are portrayed like they are in the horror movies. But that's not really very common. What's common is presenting things in an enticing manner, making you God, instead of a child of God.

Q: Have people been seeing angels all throughout history -- and not just in Judeo-Christian cultures?

A: Definitely in all cultures, and I would assume right along. I think what happened was, though, that people got very scientific and especially in our culture, the last 100 years or so, we can do things for ourselves. We don't need a spiritual plane in our lives. So it's very possible we didn't notice when these things happened.

Q: Has there been a recent flurry of these angel encounters -- more than there used to be?

A: Yes. It started in the early '90s. In fact, Billy Graham wrote a book on angels in the '70s. When he started writing the book, one of the things he said was, "In the coming dark times, angels will prove to be a light for many."

Now, that was a rather prophetic statement in the '70s, because in the '90s, we did have this feeling, and some of us feel we still have it, of this oppression, kind of hanging over the country or maybe the whole world, I don't know. I just feel there are a lot of dark forces.

At the same time, if we have this abandoning of morality, so to speak, we have all this light coming, with all these people saying, "I've had this experience. I just thought it could never happen to me." So those are the things we kind of hang our hat on at the moment: Good things are happening in the midst of whatever bad things.

Q: What do you tell people who say to you, "Hey, no way. Angels? Who are you kidding? They don't exist."

A: Many times, people will say they don't believe in angels because they were hurt. Or maybe the church didn't do what it should have done for them. Or maybe someone in authority abused them and they are kind of projecting that -- God doesn't care about me. But God does.

So, I just say, don't make any judgment about it. Just say, "If you're out there, give me a break, huh?Give me a sign -- do something to show me I'm not alone here."

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