Faith, Fish Guts, and Following our Angels

Happy Feast Day! Today, we honor our guardian angels.

Now, I don’t know about you but this year has been a bit of a huge roller coaster for me. So, honestly I am so glad that God has given us the gift of angels to help us continue on the straight and narrow path, even when things get difficult.

No wait… scratch that… especially when things get difficult.

In fact, this year, there have been times that I have basically begged God to help my guardian angel to drag me through some of the rougher patches of life, especially with some of the stuff that I was basically helpless about.

What can I say? It’s been a weird year.

So, it really amuses me to see classical artworks of angels, because in many cases the people who they are guiding along seem to have such skeptical looks on their faces. For instance… this picture!

Tobias and the Angel, by Filippino Lippi
Tobias and the Angel, by Filippino Lippi, c. 1475-80. National Museum of Art, Washington, D.C., United States.

This picture shows the Archangel Raphael guiding Tobias along on what was presumed to be a Mission Impossible — basically, to fetch some unexpected treasure, heal his blind father, and to (eventually) wed a woman, the beautiful and gracious Sarah.

Did I mention that this particular woman has had seven husbands prior, and all of her previous seven husbands have dropped dead during the wedding night, thanks to demons that surround her? And somehow, Tobias has to survive this onslaught?

Trust me — this is an awesome story.

This story is in the bible, and it’s called the Book of Tobit. I cannot strongly recommend that book enough — it’s an adventurous tale about faith, love, and family. And it’s just sooo good.

Anyway, in this picture, Tobias has just caught a fish in the Tigris River. More specifically, he has caught a fish that literally just tried his foot! And the Archangel Raphael (who is disguised as Tobias’s kinsman, Azariah) directs him to keep the fish. Why?

NABRE

Tobit 6

2When the young man left home, accompanied by the angel, the dog followed Tobiah out and went along with them. Both journeyed along, and when the first night came, they camped beside the Tigris River. 3When the young man went down to wash his feet in the Tigris River, a large fish leaped out of the water and tried to swallow his foot. He shouted in alarm. 4But the angel said to the young man, “Grab the fish and hold on to it!” He seized the fish and hauled it up on dry land. 5The angel then told him: “Slit the fish open and take out its gall, heart, and liver, and keep them with you; but throw away the other entrails. Its gall, heart, and liver are useful for medicine.”

Please note that at no point in this particular conversation does Tobias ask the obvious question, “But why exactly am I carrying these fish guts and why exactly do I need this strange medicine?”

He is definitely thinking about this question though, because much later, as they are about to arrive to their destination, Tobias finally asks the obvious question:

NABRE

Tobit 6

6After Tobiah had slit the fish open, he put aside the gall, heart, and liver. Then he roasted and ate part of the fish; the rest he salted and kept for the journey.Afterward the two of them traveled on together till they drew near to Media. 7Then the young man asked the angel this question: “Brother Azariah, what medicine is in the fish’s heart, liver, and gall?”

And so, that look of unease that you see on Tobias’s face in the artwork is supposed to be him questioning the strange message that Raphael told him. Because, honestly, it probably sounds a bit crazy to him. And yet, he trusts this angel implicitly and is willing to follow along and carry these fish guts (which will eventually defeat demons and cure blindness) because of his great faith.

Now, if you didn’t know this story (which is very possible!), you might look at the artwork and think, “Oh, this is a picture of a guardian angel leading a soul through this world!”

Which is completely understandable! You see, this story was removed from some versions the Protestant Bible (though, not all versions… apparently, Lutheranism and Anglicanism are okay with this book and have it in their scripture). And so, artwork of the Archangel Raphael leading Tobias was gradually deemed an unpopular subject in art.

However, the image of a guardian angel leading souls to God was still a popular and powerful image. And so, the pictures of this type transformed from images depicting a specific scriptural scene into a more generic sort of artwork that usually depicted an angel leading a child through some sort of rough patch. And usually the child is depicted with a sweet and trusting face.

And that sort of generic image has a certain sweetness to it, granted.

And yet… I sometimes think that when we look at those generic images of our guardian angels, we can forget that sometimes it actually is a struggle to follow our angels. That sometimes we faithfully hold onto the fish guts that God gives us and wonder, “What exactly does God want me to do these fish guts?”

And so! May we hold onto the fish guts that our Lord gives us and follow our angels, no matter how terrifying the path can seem at times. It is on this path where we can find Christ, and we should not be disheartened — even when we may not have all the answers yet.

 Angel of God
My guardian dear
To Whom His love
Commits me here
Ever this day
Be at my side
To light and guard
To rule and guide.

Amen.

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of three, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer

One thought on “Faith, Fish Guts, and Following our Angels

  • October 2, 2019 at 8:53 pm
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    I love the book of Tobit and the Archangel Raphael! My husband and I have a special devotion to him, since he is the patron saint of travelers, healing, and happy marriages. We started praying to him several months before our trip to Italy, and we are certain that he helped us to overcome several physical challenges that we would have otherwise experienced.
    Thank you for your delightful post and picture!

    Reply

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