An Advent Reflection in Clouds

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When I think of ‘tearing open the heavens’ I imagine thick cloud cover roiling across the sky, hemming in creation, as lightning splits the frame. And then, rain. Rain and thunder that can move the Cascade ridges, slowly dulling their craggy facades; surely, that is a sign of God.

Clouds are amazing. They form soft veils or impenetrable walls, intimately hover over lakes in the morning, or scurry past the earth in another stratosphere unconcerned at what lies below. Clouds are another form of water. In the Puget Sound Watershed Basin, we are hemmed in by water on all sides. Even the summers, with fire seasons lapping at more days and weeks in the calendar, we are still surrounded by water of two kinds, fresh and salt. It is salt water that must become cloud and travel over the land before it falls back to the earth, desalinated, fresh. Yet it is also salt water that is closer to humans in chemical composition. Must we, too, become cloud? 

For some, clouds trigger claustrophobia–or, perhaps we should say, they loom with the threat of drowning. The hills, mountains and clouds can make a person feel contained, constricted, submerged. And yet, the water with its morphological powers can also feel like swaddling. There is such a fine line between feeling at one with, and feeling smothered.

. . .

Advent has begun, and we prepare our hearts for the coming birth of a servant, who is God. More than a servant, the Christ child is our very Font of Life. Jesus, as he tells the Samaritan woman, is Living Water. Jesus is the first human body to traverse the boundary of infinity and finitude. During his time on the earth, he enters water under the hand of John, and claims his flesh as nourishing bread. As followers, we are called to enter into, to partake of Christ in order to live–to drown ourselves in Christ and consume him. He is our sacrament.

On the first Sunday of Advent, we light the Hope candle. The times feel oddly apocalyptic, as they have before and will continue to feel until God comes. Hope can seem vain, or just out of reach. Like water, it seems to spill between our fingers when we grasp it. Last night, I lit the hope candle aware of how parched I feel. Is life on this earth still possible as earthquakes, fires and floods consume, and those in power deny life-giving channels to the margins? Yet, now is the time to enter Christ again, to partake in the life of the Triune God by remembering the first time Jesus came into this world, born of Mary, carried within her, sustained by water.


Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Collect of the Day from the Common Lectionary reading, Episcopal Church.)

Old Testament: Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm: Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Gospel: Mark 13:24-37


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