An angel, in the sense in which we use the term here, is not necessarily a celestial being. Any messenger who wakes us up to be more alive, more truly ourselves, is an angel. The Greek term “angelos” means “messenger.” We have all met messengers in this sense. They come in the most unexpected guises. We may not be immediately aware of it, but their messages are all about gratefulness.

Yes, we are truly thankful to that “angel” who flashes us a smile on a rainy day or gives us the quarter we thought we had at hand when we got on the bus. And of course we are thankful to our animal helpers – not only to seeing-eye dogs, but also to the cat purring in our lap, the sparrow chirping under the eaves, the antelopes which we see only in pictures. Each of them sends us a message of joy.

Our focus here is not on thankfulness, though, but on gratefulness. Animals teach us gratefulness, the art of being in the moment. We humans half cling to the past, half stretch out to the future, with little of us left to enjoy the now. Animals are fully present. Through their unconditional acceptance of each moment, they sometimes draw even us into it.

When humans learn to be gratefully present every moment, they become angels. It’s not the wings that make the angel, but the message of courageous presence and creative acceptance, no matter what the moment brings: “Fear not!”

“ I have lived with several Zen masters – all of them cats.” – Eckhart Tolle, The Power of NOW.