Thursday, May 17, 2012

Waiting for the Clouds to Move

I went to a park near my house today to finish a Marilynne Robinson essay, “Imagination and Community,” from her so-far-excellent When I Was a Child I Read Books. And I will talk more on that book later; it's setting me down some interesting intellectual paths.

At any rate this park is basically a small forest, and I knew it was likely to be a bit cold for me in the shade I took a light jacket. I found a clearing with some play equipment, and thought at first I might settle on a swing and do some reading. This proved a bit uncomfortable, so I sat on the sawdust and leaned against the ladder of some monkey bars. I had noticed where the sun was likely to be headed, based on where it was rising, and I wanted to see if the clearing would get sunnier as the day went on.

While I was reading Robinson I did find some of my efforts to enjoy the sun being thwarted by clouds. Now by the standards of certain predictions of those persons known as “weather-people” the weather was actually quite nice, and it was by my standards, too. The sun-breaks came and went, and watching them on the way in was a fun distraction from the essay. I also found myself checking periodically to watch the progress of the sunlight when it came out in fuller force, and was pleased to find my prediction was right.

A startling moment: I discovered there was a spider crawling on my leg. How it got there without my noticing I don't know. I made a startled movement and a noise, and the spider jumped off. I watched my new friend for a second to see if it would crawl away, and it did. For a second after I was paranoid, but it did not return. It reminds me of an incident at University of Portland in which a ladybug had hid in my backpack and traveled with me across the campus.

At some point I noticed that the clouds were moving rather quickly, and that in a few minutes the sun would be out in full force for at least a few minutes. I overestimated, I think, both the time that would take and the time the sun would be in the pure blue sky, but I noticed something more interesting in the meantime.

I could see the sun through the clouds. At the first I wondered if maybe the ball I was seeing was actually the moon, but it wasn't. It was just the sun, obscured enough by the clouds that it was vaguely safe to stare. Based on the slight weirdness that followed in my eyes, I don't recommend it often, but it was an interesting experience. It reminded me of the description of the Miracle of the Sun, though if I understand correctly, people saw the sun at Fatima not through the clouds but in the open sky.

It also reminded me of an incident in the Old Testament, which a Christian blogger had brought to my attention a good few months ago now, in which God covered his face so that Abraham would not die from seeing it.

And once that sun did finally emerge from the clouds, it did emerge about as dangerous to my eyes as anything short of God could be. A notion about the sun, from C.S. Lewis: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Or another, from Chesterton: “The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything.”

I have remarked to one or two of my fellow people in the last month or so that I feel it is misguided for people to say that the world is beautiful when what they mean is that it looks beautiful. For the world to be beautiful it must be beautiful when there is rain as well as when there is sun. But perhaps there is still value in the fact that the world often looks more beautiful in the sun than in the rain. Sometimes it takes the sun to reveal the beauty of the world. Sometimes it takes God to help us see the beauty in people, to reveal their nature as it really is. The sun is really God's delegate for nature (as the moon is the sun's delegate at night), to do the duties for the natural world that God does for people.

Really, in this light (pun!), sun-worship is an understandable mistake. There is some analogy between the Divine and the sun. Just as the clouds made the sun 'safe' to see, so there is a 'fog' or a covering that makes the Divine safe for now, as we see through the glass darkly. Perhaps at that time when we can see the Divine without dying, we will be able to see the sun clearly, in the open blue, without wrecking our eyes. And we will see all, both nature and persons, as they were meant to be and in their proper lights.

For now, when I get up and leave those moments of seeing the sun through the clouds, and failing to see the sun in the clear blue, maybe the best I can do is thank the sun for shining, and God for assigning it the task.