Sunday, August 7, 2016

Looking at Clouds That Way

Both the Gospel and Epistle readings for Proper 15C/Ordinary 20C introduce the visual idea of clouds. In Luke's gospel (Luke 12:49-56, the cloud is literal. Clouds in the sky that are understood by humans are placed next to the signs of the times that people are unable to read. In Hebrews (11:29-12:2) the cloud is one of witnesses. Literal clouds and figurative ones.

Literal clouds are masses of water droplets so small that they float in the air. Though the sky is full of water, it is usually in the form of water vapor, which cannot be seen. The clouds, then, provide the opportunity for humans to see what is often invisible.

If literal clouds make water visible, is there a way that the cloud of witnesses can be rendered visible?

Visual artist Piper Mavis used twine in a sanctuary to celebrate the history of one congregation in London, England. In 2012 Heath Street Baptist Church commissioned five artists to conceive and execute works for an exhibit called The Long Cloud of Witnesses. Mavis' work, titled Fade Away and Radiate, speaks to
...the absence of the great congregation that met during the church’s heyday (A church built for a capacity of hundreds now had a congregation of 15). A thread of sisal twine (one for every member in the church’s history) emanates from the original pulpit outward and upward until it reaches every seat in the pews, once again filling the church to capacity many times over.

The twine indeed fills the space with a cloud of witnesses. In memory of the cloud of witnesses that had indeed filled the space of the church sanctuary throughout the congregation's history. The twine reaches to the farthest corners of the sanctuary and to the upper reaches of the balcony.

It is appropriate that the higher parts of the sanctuary are included in the work. Nephos, the Greek word for cloud in Hebrews 12, refers to a mass of cloud/vapor that obscures the heavens. The highest point, the farthest seat, are both touched by the great cloud of witnesses. Let's look at clouds that way.

For more on this installation and more of Piper Mavis' work, see her website: http://www.pipermavis.com/home/artworks/completed-works/fade-away-and-radiate/


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