"Gabriel, one of the holy angels, who is over Paradise and the serpents and the Cherubim" (1 Enoch 20:7)
My husband walked into our art studio and said, “are you burning incense in here?” “No, but I smell it too” I replied. He looked at me completely confused, tilting his head with an inquisitive and concerned look in his eyes.
There is a phenomenon known as “phantosmia,” aka “phantom smell,” or “ol’ factory hallucination.” It’s the smelling of something that’s not actually there. But in the spiritual and religious sense, this is called the “odor of sanctity.” While usually occurring at the presence of a Saints physical body, especially if they sustain the wounds of stigmata, the odor of sanctity can also be experienced while in the presence of, the spiritual presence that is, a Saint or Holy figure. Call me crazy if you must, but I believe what my husband and I experienced was the actual presence of Archangel Gabriel while I was writing this icon. My belief in this encounter was further solidified when a priest friend who I shared this occurrence with informed me that archangel iconography is often depicted with thuribles and incense! While I have personally encountered many a spiritual phenomenon, never have I witnessed someone else, most especially my husband, experience it right in front of and along with me.
As an artist, I have always observed the people of the world in a unique way. Whenever I recognize someone as androgynous or without a distinguishing gender, I see them as the most beautiful of human species and left in awe and fascination. I see angels as genderless creatures with distinguishable human features, plush feathered wings, surrounded by flora and fauna. So, when it was time for me to write Gabriel’s icon, I looked upon all of the androgynous and beautiful people I have witnessed in the world as inspiration.
There are some specific descriptions of Gabriel out there; antennae (always listening), white/blue hair, turquoise eyes, sounds of peace, trumpets (messenger), gold and copper, white fire, lilies, primrose, and hyacinth flowers, the highest calling, divine feminine, white light and warmth, the moon, and feather pens/quills (patron of artists). I took all of these into account as I do with all of the Saints I write. But Gabriel was different; with the initial smell of incense, I knew this wasn’t going to be like just any of the other Saints I’ve had the blessing, privilege, and honor of coming to know.
Discovering that Gabriel is venerated cross-religiously, I was immediately fascinated and drawn into this archangel, this “patron of artists,” this “messenger” (Christian), this “guardian of the Deacon’s doors” (Greek Orthodox), this “guardian of Israel” (Jewish), this “keeper of holiness” (Islam), this “celestial warrior.” And I invite you to remember that no matter what you believe when it comes to religion, we best remember that many of our stories, many of our cultures and experiences actually cross religious barriers. We all share in Gabriel’s, or Jibril’s/جبرائيل (Islam), holiness, and Gabriel wants us to remember that as well.
In Christianity, Gabriel is the angel at the annunciation (Gabriel’s feast day), the announcement in the Gospel of Luke (New Testament) delivered to the Virgin Mary that she was conceiving a baby boy who she was to name Jesus. Gabriel, messenger, also came to the elderly Zechariah, foretelling of his thought-to-be-barren wife Elizabeth’s (cousin to Mary) conception and coming birth of John the Baptist. In the Hebrew Bible, Gabriel is the interpreter of the prophet Daniel’s visions and also appears in the Book of Enoch. Gabriel is venerated alongside Archangel Michael as the “defenders of Israel,” protecting the nation from the evils of the world. Even Jewish mysticism has some beautiful beliefs about the significance of Gabriel that I invite you to explore. Islam commends Gabriel, or Jibril/جبرائيل, as the archangel sent to the prophet Mohammad, helping Muhammad overcome his adversaries significantly during the Battle of Badr and against a demon during the Mi'ra.
I truly hope that everyone can absorb this image of Gabriel as a reminder that the “keeper of holiness” is always near, that this celestial guardian protects us all. Gabriel defends us and delivers important messages of faith and humanity; that we are all one, that we must use our knowledge to better the lives of others and ourselves be messengers of good news.