by Sanford Drob
â€œGodâ€™s 120 Guardian Angelsâ€
Eighteen years in the making, David Birnbaumâ€™s â€œ120 Guardian Angelsâ€, the poetic portion of his new book God and Good, is a beautiful and fitting complement to his 1988 masterpiece, God and Evil. Nearly everything about this new work, with the exception of its genuine excellence, contrasts markedly with Birnbaumâ€™s earlier book.
Whereas God and Evil was discursive, closely argued and philosophical, â€œ120 Guardian Angelsâ€ is poetic, highly personal, and mythological. Whereas God and Evil was profoundly serious, â€œ120 Guardian Angelsâ€ is often light and humorous.
Whereas God and Evil spoke with the highest imaginable degree of generality (declaring, for example, that â€œHoly Potential is at the epicenter of the Divineâ€) â€œ120 Guardian Angelsâ€ can be extraordinarily particular (Guardian Angel #62 is â€œSnowstorms on School Days, and #88 is â€œPlaying Chess with Your Sonâ€). However, while Birnbaumâ€™s new work is â€œparticularâ€ in the Aristotelian sense that knowledge of the particular brings clarity to the universal, it is hardly particular in the sense of â€œparticularisticâ€ or â€œparochialâ€. Indeed, Birnbaumâ€™s angels, while they do seem to have a fondness for Jewish ideas and activities (Guardian Angel #25 is â€œLighting Shabbos Candlesâ€ and #75 is â€œGemorrah Chavrusahsâ€), are ecumenical enough to include in amongst them #71 â€œJu Jitsuâ€ and #89 â€œCatholic School Marching Bands.â€
Birnbaum, in God and Evil, argued that â€œHoly Potentialâ€ is the â€œprimal thrust of the cosmosâ€ and that man, created in the divine image, has as his purpose the actualization and fulfillment of that potential. In this new book, Birnbaumâ€™s angels speak to us directly and inform us precisely how this potential can be attained. Many of the angels, of course, reflect universally acknowledged ideas and values (Guardian Angel #4 is â€œFreedomâ€ and #5 is â€œMercyâ€), but it is in the more idiosyncratic amongst them (e.g. #44 â€œFive-Year Old Girls Gigglingâ€, #50 â€œPutting-the-Kids-to-Bedâ€, and #58 â€œIron Mill Workersâ€) that we get the sense that the factory of Holy (and human) Potential is really working.
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