By Justin Rossow, with an instructional video by Karen Hunter
Our Facebook group has just begun walking through Ponder Anew: A Hymn Journal of Trust and Confidence and already I am being blown away! A variety of people picked up on the concept of delight in God’s Word that permeates the Introduction and celebrated that sha’a’ with abandon. (Sha’a’ is Hebrew for “play,” but also for “meditate.”)
And then we got to the very first hymn, and people really got creative. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the summer goes!
One of the many outstanding reflections members have already shared came from one of the Visual Faith™ artists who helped illustrate the book. Karen Hunter added this image to our group:
Now, if you know anything about Visual Faith™ you know that the focus is on the process, not on the end product: our time spent in God’s Word is the most important thing, and the sketching or doodling or writing or drawing or adding color all facilitates spending time with Jesus, and that’s actually the point.
AND … this end product is pretty darn awesome! A secondary goal of our group is to learn and share new techniques that become a part of the process. Karen, who had done a similar treatment of clouds for an Ascension image, shared a video tutorial on how to get that kind of cumulus effect.
Try something new as you engage Scripture. Maybe writing in the margin of your Bible or circling important words or phrases is something new for you; great! Try it out and see what you think! Maybe you are a seasoned veteran of engaging God’s Word through multiple media; wonderful! Try adding this cloud technique to your bag of tools. But whatever you do, get your hands dirty as you handle the Word. The Spirit promises to work in Scripture, which means your ongoing engagement is a powerful moment of the very presence of God active for you and in your life.
Some art not only glorifies God by being beautiful, it helps communicate God’s heart for the chosen-but-sinful people with whom the Holy One desires to dwell.
That same accompanying presence of God throughout Scripture shows up again and again in clouds. So as you experiment with this cloud technique, recall some of the places God shows up to be present with a wandering people, just as God continues to show up with you as you engage the presence of Jesus by the power of the Spirit active in God’s Word.
When God led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, the very presence of God went with them and led them in a pillar of cloud:
By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. (Exodus 13:21, NIV)
That same Cloud of the Presence of Yahweh descended on the top of Mount Sinai, where Moses went up to meet God face to face:
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Exodus 19:16, ESV
Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. (Exodus 34:5, NIV)
Then, at the very end of Exodus, the cloud of God’s glory descended on the Tent of Meeting, showing that God was truly dwelling in the midst of with these people.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels. (Exodus 40:34-38, NIV)
I like to think of that cloud like Lutherans think of the Sacraments: God is not the glory cloud; but God is actually present in, with, and under the Cloud of the Glory of the Presence of Yahweh. You don’t worship the cloud; but the God you worship is present with you and for you by means of the cloud.
When Solomon dedicates the temple in Jerusalem, God takes up residence there, and God’s presence is so thick and overpowering, the priests have to abandon their posts:
When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple. (1 Kings 8:10-11, NIV)
When the prophet Isaiah sees Yahweh enthroned in the Temple, that vision of God’s presence is marked by a cloud of smoke (Isaiah 6:1–5).
The prophet Ezekiel sees a vision of the Cloud of God’s Glory departing the temple and going to be with God’s people in exile shortly before the Temple is destroyed by the Babylonian armies (Ezekiel 10:4 ff.).
Not until the New Testament do we see the Glory Cloud of God’s Presence return to God’s people, and this time, when the voice from the cloud speaks, it says, “This is my beloved Son! Listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5).
In Jesus, the very Glory of the Presence of Yahweh dwells with God’s people:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, NIV)
In Jesus, the fullness of the presence of God dwells, and is available to you:
In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. (Colossians 2:9)
In, with, and under the God’s Word, the Spirit makes Jesus present to you and for you by faith.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Ephesians 3:16–17, NIV)
So the next time you engage the divine Word–in your Bible, in your Hymn Journal, in your conversation, or in your prayers–be aware of the Divine Presence that dwells with you in that Word. Invite the Spirit to fill you with the Holy Cloud of the Presence of Yahweh. Trust that Jesus meets you in His Word and is present for you, to strengthen and forgive and comfort and guide.
Trust that this same Jesus who was taken up into the clouds of the Presence of God at His ascension (Acts 1:9), will return with the clouds of God’s Glory (Revelation 1:7) , for you.
And while you wait, the Glory of the Presence of Yahweh in the person of Jesus will never abandon you. Come quickly, Lord.