Lectionary Passage: 1 Kings 8: (1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=1+Kings+8:1-43&vnum=yes&version=nrsv
The Cloud…what IS that? Where does your data actually go? Now, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s pretty cool that you can save it on one thing and then see it on another. It’s as if it’s known and not known, here and not here, controllable and out of control. But, really, what is that all about? Where does it go? Do we just put it out in cyber-space and hope it returns? Or does cyber-space actually somehow identify with us, offer us a claim of sorts to store our data and then actually be able to retrieve what we need?
It’s an interesting name for this thing that we know but we don’t. After all, we’ve encountered clouds before. Remember the Israelites escaping the Egyptian army when Moses went up onto the mountain, out of sight, out of what they knew, and received the Commandments as a gift from God? And then there was the Cloud that descended onto the tabernacle, the very Presence of God. The Cloud was there, following them through the desert, always there, and, yet, it was different. They didn’t understand it. It was beyond what they could control or even imagine. And now…again, the Cloud comes to dwell, the holiest of holies, the thing that, though unknown and unimagineable, is the very crux of life itself. This Cloud, the God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, is still here, dwelling with them.
For us in our Christian understanding, it is difficult to understand the significance of the Temple in Jewish theology. The Temple is the place of which God says, “My name shall be there.” It is the place where heaven meets earth and where God’s glory appears. It is the place of The Cloud, the thing that we do not understand, that makes no sense, but that gives us life. And yet, Solomon’s prayer does not confine God to the Temple. He acknowledges that the “house”, the Temple, cannot contain God. For this reason, even though the Templeis central to Israel’s worship, it is not essential. God is there, so Solomon bows and prays. He prays to the God that he cannot know but is open to knowing, the God who cannot be contained but who he can depict in a cloud, the God who is here and for whom he searches. This is God known and not known, here and not here, controllable and out of control. It’s not about the Temple or a God contained. In fact, when the Temple is destroyed (twice to come), God is still present and attentive to the people.
Solomon’s words bring us an important understanding of prayer. The Lord is not just the property of Israel (or, for that matter, any other one group of people). Solomon alludes to the incomparable and magnanimous grace of the Lord which extends beyond the imaginations and beyond any disagreements with neighbors that we may have, which extends into the world, the just and the unjust, the wise and the unwise. Realization of this and prayers for wisdom and justice drive home the notion that God is God, that God is not our property or our agent, that God is not on our side or on the other side or even on some side that a third party is inventing. It is finally getting us to the point where we figure out that the way we connect with this God is to leave our alliances, our riches, and our own sense of who we think God is on the ground beneath us, repent, and then, finally, turn toward a new perception of reality that we cannot control or contain.
Maybe we systematic, dogmatic, and pragmatic followers of Christ have it wrong. Perhaps there is a cloud after all. Perhaps when we understand faith not as belief or knowledge but as gaining the insight to walk into the cloud, to walk into the unknown, the uncontrollable, then we will finally be on our journey toward Communion with God. It’s not a new concept. Others have said the same thing–for centuries. Most of them draw upon the work of an anonymous 14th century mystic, who saw Communion with God not as a pursuit to attain but, rather, a way to become. Maybe that’s the problem–is your spiritual journey headed toward something or walking in clouds, embracing what you do not know but know has been there all along? I mean, after all, The Cloud is always there, always present. So, for whom are you looking?
Grace and Peace,