Ascension Sunday and the Cloud

Ascension Sunday and the Cloud

by Sr. Sheila Campbell MMM                                        Ireland                                             09.05.2024

Next Sunday we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord.  In some countries it is celebrated today.   When I was a child, I believed in this in a factual way and would look up at the sky and imagine Jesus zooming up like a supersonic rocket. It was easy to believe this as the Acts of the Apostles says, “He was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight”.

Now that I am older, I wonder if the main point of this story is not, in fact, the cloud. In the Bible, the cloud often symbolised the divine presence. It was the pillar of cloud that guided Moses out of Egypt. It was a cloud that covered Mount Sinai when Moses went to speak with God. Even during the Transfiguration there was a bright cloud.

Clouds come and go, scatter, reform themselves, vary in intensity and yet their very essence is to cover over.  Maybe that is what is important in the Ascension Cloud.  It is telling us that we don’t know the whole story, things will still be uncovered, revealed, in God’s own time.
“It is not for you to know times and seasons.”  often we try to manipulate situations to suit our own ends, the cloud reminds us that God is in control, not us!

In the late 14th Century, an English mystic encouraged his pupils to run with the cloud metaphor as they tried to pray. Accept that God is fathomless mystery, he said, and enter ‘the cloud of your unknowing’!  There, even though you can’t see, you’ll have a better chance of glimpsing God.

What do we make of all this cloud-talk in context of our troubled world today?  That nameless author of ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ lived in uncertain times.  As well as war and social unrest, he lived in a time of pandemic.  In his youth, the Black Death had raged across England, killing maybe half its people. And it kept coming back. His response?  To long for God.  To turn to contemplative prayer in his ‘little soul-room’.  To accept the limitations of reason and embrace mystery.  To glimpse God lovingly waiting for him in the cloud of his unknowing.  It seems a perfect approach for Ascension Sunday. Perhaps for the wider times in which we live too?

Thank you, Susanna Gunner, for encouraging me to think of this!