For previous posts on the contributors, see these authors who were all featured in the first section of the book, “Mystics and Messengers.”
“Angels Watching Over Me” is the next section of the book, which opens with this quote from Sonja Livingston’s essay, “The Angel’s Share”:
Sign an angel is nearby: finding a coin or a white feather; the unexpected appearance of a light breeze or a wing-shaped cloud; flickering lights; a cat or baby cocking its head at an unseen object; the sound of chanting or bells; a surge of warmth in the chest; a tingling sensation in the gut; a distinctive scent—often spicy for guardian angels, and floral for archangels.
I first met Sonja at the 2012 Yoknapatawpha Summer Writer’s Workshop in Oxford, Mississippi. She was giving a terrific craft talk, “Writing Your Life One Snapshot at a Time.” At that point she had one published book, Ghostbread (University of Georgia Press, 2009) which won the Association for Writers and Writing Program’s award for Creative Nonfiction. At the workshop she talked about structure—writing little pieces that are like tiles in a mosaic—and then tying them together to form the essay or book. And about SEEDS—moments that are broken open so you can get to the heart of the matter. She was teaching in the MFA program at the University of Memphis, and I’m so glad our paths crossed. We both have strong interests in writing about our spiritual lives—she’s Catholic and I’m Orthodox—so we have a lot in common. We were “in conversation” at Novel Books in Memphis a few years ago when her book The Virgin of Prince Street came out. The Virgin of Prince Street is her fourth book of nonfiction, which uses an unexpected return to her childhood church to explore larger changes in ritual, religion, and devotion. Sonja’s writing has been honored with a New York State Arts Fellowship, an Iowa Review Prize, and other awards. She is an associate professor of creative writing at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“The Angel’s Share”
I was so happy when Sonja contributed an essay to my second anthology, Southern Writers on Writing (2018), and that she agreed to once again lend her creative hand to another of my collections. Sonja seems to like dividing things into parts. Her essay in Southern Writers is “Stardust: An Essay on Voice in Four parts.” Here’s an excerpt from her essay, “The Angel’s Share,” which is divided into eleven sections.
Lailah is the original guardian angel as far as I can tell. According to Jewish lore, it’s Lailah’s job to lead souls from Eden into the human womb and pour secrets into our ears as our bodies unfold from a rosette of cells. Lailah reveals what she knows about God, the future and all of human history—filling us with so much wisdom, our bodies glow like candles. Until right before birth, when Lailah taps our upper lip with a finger and wipes memory away, leaving us to come into this world clean and seeking—and with a fleshy divot between mouth and nose. Who knows why an angel gives and takes like this? We can’t go through the world with borrowed light, I suppose. We must stumble and fall while finding wisdom of our own. But Lailah doesn’t wholly abandon us. She hovers nearby as we flail about, watching as our fingers return to the place where she tapped us—the philtrum, it’s called—and the finger instinctively returns to its soft landing when we struggle to recall something we once knew.
Postscript: I love Sonja’s essays, like this one, published in 2019 in Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog: “Shame, Shame, Shame. On Brene Brown, Diamond Formation, and the Writing Life.”