A recent flight from Seattle to LA began in the clearest of skies. The weather was warm and the sun shining over Mount Rainier, illuminating it with a rare beauty as we bade farewell to Washington State on our journey home. The view from the skies offers a unique perspective on the landscape: rugged mountains, quilted fields growing all manner of foods which will reach tables across the nation (and beyond), as well as provide income for the farming families. One can even make out - for a short time – cars snaking their way south on the I-5: like ants at a picnic streaming to or from the food source. The concerns of the drivers, the farmers, and the lives of many others embroidered as tiny stitches in the landscape, are invisible from 20,000 feet. They weave a unique pattern, exuding a calm and rhythm often missing in the face-to-face encounters.
As we neared our destination, a significant cloud layer took shape below. Our flight continued smoothly in clear blue skies, above a soft carpet of cloud - this peaceful space above the clouds. It was not until we commenced descent into Los Angeles that the realities masked by the cloud layer loomed into view. It began as our plane dipped its wings through the cotton layer, briefly jolting us out of a disconnected comfort before submerging into a different reality. We moved from bright sunshine to a cloudy gloom, from clear skies to polluted air, leaving behind the unhindered freeways of the skies to engage with the clogged arterials of urban LA.
classic The Cloud of Unknowing invites us to welcome that clouded
space between two realities: between the grounded grittiness of daily life,
and the deepest yearning for something transcendent. During those transitional
moments between clear sky and urban sprawl, we were immersed in a nether-world,
a space without context or meaning, where pilot and craft are guided by
instruments informed by signals from far-away places. In the spiritual
journey, it is where we are invited to discover realities hidden from the
eye – to know and to experience God at work – above and below.
We are called to learn to live in transition through the cloud, able to reach those places ‘above the maelstrom of life’, where a new perspective can be gained, where refreshment can be found, where we can be in touch with our deep humanity, and draw it out afresh from the tangle of pressures which engulf us daily. But this is not a place where we can live perpetually. We are refreshed and renewed to reenter daily life with renewed perspective, a deepened humanity, with the aim of bringing such peace into the life ‘below the clouds’.
To walk by faith is to acknowledge realities which exist beyond our senses, and to recognise that they exist in the present and as possibilities for our future. To live with the knowledge of both realities equally present is the daily challenge we face.
May 7, 2006