Pillow-y White Clouds

Letters from a Pastor to His People- May 24, 2020

Dear Parishioners,

Clouds are mentioned quite a bit in Sacred Scripture. In the Old Testament, God was manifested in a cloud. We read in the Book of Exodus, "And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud" (Exodus 16:10). A column of cloud led the Israelites through the desert (cf. Exodus 13:21) and then the shekinah was like a cloud or light that was in the temple of Jerusalem, signifying God's dwelling.

A cloud was present at the Transfiguration. Jesus ascended on a cloud. Then, in the Book of Revelation, John prophesies that "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him" (Revelation 1:7). Jesus sits on a throne with a rainbow above him in a cloud. The same rainbow appeared in a cloud to Moses after the flood in Genesis.
Why the cloud for God? Well, clouds, like most things in life, are good and bad. An abundance of clouds in a leaden sky, like we in Chicago are so used to in winter—and spring...and fall—can make us sad and even depressed. We yearn for sunshine. But then recall in the summertime working in the heat and being relieved by the clouds. I remember in football practice in August praying for cloudy days. But I also remember praying for sun and no clouds in baseball in April. 

Clouds can be beautiful. Picture those bright blue days with pillowy, white clouds. They add to the textured beauty of the earth and sky. But, then, picture those endlessly gray days in January. Ugh.
Clouds are not clear-cut. That is the definition of cloudy: murky, not transparent.

The Ascension is a cloudy experience. Yes, it is good that Jesus ascends in his humanity to Heaven. We too can ascend one day likewise to Heaven to be with God. And from Heaven Jesus will send down his Holy Spirit into our souls. The Holy Spirit allows us to be united to God in a more intimate way than when Jesus was actually incarnate on this earth.
But the ascension is "bad" in a way. Jesus is gone. The most incredible thing that ever happened—God himself walking and talking and acting on this earth—is over. We have to exercise our faith to relate to God, and that isn't always easy.

Whether good or bad, the one clear thing about a cloud is that it always remains. Clouds may disappear, but they will come back, like the last stanza in Percy Bysshe Shelly's 1820 poem says,

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.

Our relationship to God ebbs and flows over the seasons of our life, but he will always be there for us and one day we will join him in the clouds in Heaven.

Yours in Christ,
Fr. James

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