Sunday, February 16, 2020

Transfiguration and Sinai: Have You Looked at Clouds This Way?

In Exodus 24: 4-18, Moses goes up on the mountain to receive the law and commandments on tablets of stone. A cloud covered the mountain for six days. In Matthew 17:1-9, the disciples (along with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah) are on a mountain when they are overshadowed by a bright cloud. Did you picture a too-bright white cotton candy cloud for the Matthew reading? And maybe boiling, seething dark clouds flashing with lightning for the Exodus passage?

Clouds are amazing things. Clouds are actually collections of water droplets so light that they can float. Fog is a cloud at ground level, so if you've been enclosed in fog, you've been enclosed by a cloud. When I was growing up my siblings and I looked forward to the "fog machine" driving through our neighborhood about suppertime in the summer. We dashed out the door to be hidden in the fog, running around trying to find - or not find each other, enjoying the temporary thrill of being hidden in the cloud. The fact that the "fog" was actually spraying DDT to control mosquitos...well...
John Constable. Cloud Study, Sunset. c. 1821. Yale Center for British Art.
English painter John Constable studied clouds, creating approximately fifty studies of clouds and sky between 1821 and 1822. He looked at their color and shape, the relative position to the horizon and the land, and the possibility of rain (or not). The studies were painted on thick paper, and the artist wrote meterological data like wind direction and temperature and time of day of the backs of the drawings. They look like the clouds we see in the sky.

Mark Leonard considered those cloud studies and created a geometric interpretation of those very organic clouds. How does your perception of the clouds change when they are twisted into a rope, as below? Could disciples get lost in this cloud? Does the twist image help you better understand God's continuing work through Hebrew scripture (Moses and Elijah) AND Christian scripture (Jesus)?
Mark Leonard, Constable Study I. 2011. Collection of Mark Leonard.
You can see additional comparative images of Leonard and Constable's work here. Do we need fluffy clouds for the stories of Moses on Sinai and Jesus' Transfiguration? 

For additional thoughts on the Transfiguration, click here or here.

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