To Guard You in All Your Ways

Guardian Angel

One of the regular readers of these devotions jokingly asked me to do a study on the well-known but not highly artistic tapestry of dogs playing poker.  Maybe someday. He also emailed me this painting the other day, saying, “The image of this print popped in my mind today. My Grandma had this image hanging in her basement in the makeshift bedroom where I often stayed when visiting and where I lived during college. The image and its message comforted me for many years.”

I think this comforting portrayal of a guardian angel is familiar to a lot of us. I’ve seen it in Sunday school rooms, on jewelry boxes, lampshades and all kinds of pendants. Included in the reader’s email was a link to an article on the backstory of this artwork in Appalachian Magazine. This is what it said:

To understand the significance of this painting, you must first know Psalm 91:11: “For he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.”

Out of this Biblical promise that God would protect his saints with angels grew a Roman Catholic doctrine of “Holy Guardian Angels,” in which morning prayers are recited, “Holy Guardian Angel whom God has appointed to be my guardian, direct and govern me during this day, Amen.”

Over the past 500 years, the idea of guardian angels caught on and by the 1800s painters across Europe began selling various depictions of guardian angels, particularly watching over young children as they traveled along dangerous pathways.

In most of these paintings, the guardian angels were watching as children braved the edges of rock cliffs with massive drop offs, such as the painting below. In 1900, however, a German postcard maker broke tradition and published a painting by an unknown artist that featured two children being protected as they crossed a broken-down bridge over treacherous waters rather than sharp cliffs.

The postcard found a receptive audience in protestant-America, especially in the hills of Appalachia, where just about every family had a broken-down bridge that led to their home—and on more than one occasion were communities disrupted by flooding.

In this same region of the country, the saying “Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise,” referring to the Creek Indian tribe. It was changed to “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise,” referring to the unpredictable waters that ran at the base of every mountain.

It was out of this understanding of the dangers rushing water presented and the many ways in which the painting pictured all of life’s many treacheries, one by one, grandmas across the mountains began hanging this picture in their living rooms!

Helping to expedite the painting’s fame was the fact that it quickly entered into the public domain in America and is now free for reprint by everyone, which means that anyone who has the capabilities can take this painting and affix it to a night light, a picture, furniture, a Bible or anything else—making its distribution cheap and limitless.

Thanks, faithful reader! If anyone else has an image they would like to know more about, please send it my way and I’ll do my best.

Being human connection: May the Lord command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways!

Original depiction without the bridge.