a ragged grey sky
clouds scrunched like an unmade bed
soaked are field and coat
a ragged grey sky
clouds scrunched like an unmade bed
soaked are field and coat
There are probably more accurate scientific terms for what we saw late September in Northamptonshire. Certainly you do not see these very often. You’ll have to forgive my fist in one of the pictures. It is there to block out the sun and protect the camera (and my eyes for that matter) so that we could have a photograph that showed both sun dogs in relation to the sun.
The cloudbow (if that is the correct name) was directly overhead and I’m afraid the picture doesn’t do it justice. It was like having a rainbow but no rain. For the record there were no nimbus clouds in the sky – pretty much all medium-height alto-stratus – or possibly high cirro-stratus but I’m not much cop at estimating heights and distances.
You had to be there.
The weather had been oppressively dull for days: cloud, rain and fog vying for dominance and relentlessly gloomy whichever way you looked at it. In the middle of this, for a brief few minutes, the sun tried to break through but did not quite succeed. At least we were treated, albeit briefly, to this spectacle. I’m not sure if it is classified as a halo or a corona. Either way it looked striking and the photo doesn’t really do justice to it.
or may be before one. The clouds were quite impressive (these photos don’t really do them justice). I’ve included a couple with TV aerials and roofs in – not because they look pretty but because they were part of the scene.
I hope things are OK in your neck of the woods. A little while back we were able to take a few days off in the West Country. The weather was all right but it did live up to having lots of April showers! Looking westwards of an April day, I watched the progress of a shower cloud as it drifted along. We didn’t get rained on by that particular cloud but those on our horizon were getting plenty of sky-water.
This, I think, is what is called a sun dog. It was to the right of the sun which itself was hidden by the rain cloud.
To be honest, it looked more like a brush stroke from a giant’s paint brush than any particular sort of cloud. You can get a similar effect if you wipe the paint off a paint brush on to a piece of paper. Meanwhile, what kind of cloud is it really? Does it count as a low-level or a medium level cloud?
We looked up “The Met Office Pocket Cloud Book” as well as “The Cloud Book” and a flow chart type of key called “The cloud name trail”. None of them gave us a definitive answer but we narrowed it down to two: some kind of altostratus (flat medium height cloud) or stratocumulus lenticularis (a flattish low-level cloud). Or put another way: a not very high ovalish sort of cloud. See what you think:
… instead of looking up at them. That was a novelty for us because it was the first trip in an aeroplane for many years. Until recently we vacationed in the UK – partly because of the cost, partly out of consideration of the CO2 air travel makes. Well, we saved up, paid our carbon off-set and took the four-hour flight across the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean.
So we looked down at the clouds: some flat stratus clouds at first (I was too slow off the mark, getting the camera out of the bottom of my bag, to do justice to the “glory” we saw out of the window).
These gave way to what I think were alto cumulus of some sort but I am not very good at estimating heights so these could be straight-forward cumulus (or “fair weather”) clouds.
I didn’t have any particularly clever or inspiring thoughts – I was just excited at going on holiday to an island I had never been to before.
The Ascension of Jesus Christ is one of those stories that are a bit puzzling and easy to ridicule. I think it fair to say that some of the ways that well-meaning writers and artists have used have not helped. We read in the New Testament that some time after Jesus was raised from the dead (which we celebrate at Easter) he left his disciples and returned home: he went ‘up’ into heaven (that we celebrate on Ascension Day, forty days after Easter Day. This year it is on 2nd June 2011). The phrase used in the book of Acts is that Jesus “was lifted up and a cloud took him out of his sight”. I know of at least one chapel which has a cloud attached to its ceiling and a pair of feet sticking out underneath it. Then there is a video intended for children and it shows Jesus shooting up into the air looking for all the world like a Saturn V rocket. It shows a way of reading of the Bible which is unhelpful and makes particular assumptions about the universe. If we think about it for a minute, even if Jesus travelled at the speed of light, he would have travelled about 2,000 light years: I don’t think that that would get him across the galaxy we live in, let alone the end of the universe. Another assumption is that heaven is a place a long way away from here. By definition, though, heaven is not in this universe; it is in another “dimension” (to borrow an idea from science). “Where” that dimension is is impossible to describe – it may be very close indeed.
I think the mention of the cloud is what causes much of our confusion. Think of a cloud and the chances are you think of a weather cloud (fair weather cloud, rain cloud etc) or perhaps something like mist or fog. But in the Bible a reference to cloud is often a metaphor used to suggest the mysterious presence of God or God’s glory. For example, in Jesus’ transfiguration (when Jesus’ appearance was changed in a dazzling bright way when he was on a mountain with some of the disciples) it was while the cloud covered them that they heard God’s voice. The point about the cloud is not the weather but that God was present in a particularly special way: somehow God was closer than ever before. The cloud tells us that Jesus went into the place where God is – the place we call heaven.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Jesus’ ascension into heaven is simply the rounding off of his story but in fact it is more than that. In the Luke’s gospel and in the book of Acts Jesus’ ascension forms the link, a bridge if you like, between his life and work on earth and the life and work of his followers who continue to spread the good news of death conquered and God’s overpowering love revealed in Jesus Christ their Lord. The Ascension also tells us where Jesus is now. To be sure he is present with us through his Spirit, but until he returns he is in heaven his home. In other words, where God is, Jesus is. For Christians that is a very important point.
The point about the cloud is not that Jesus went up but that Jesus Christ went away; he did not go into outer space, he went home to heaven. Meanwhile, his last promise is that he will not leave his disciples all alone – he will be sending them a gift from heaven in a few days’ time. And we may receive that gift too.
I was bound to return to this subject sooner or later if only to mention one of my favourite poems. “The View from The Window” by R. S. Thomas. We sometimes hear friends complain, “I had to do Shakespeare/[insert name of writer or poet here] at school and that just ruined it for me, I’m afraid.” Well, in this instance, here is a poem from a poet whom “we did at school” which actually caught my teenage imagination and has stayed with me ever since.
In part it is the sparing use of language which yet manages to conjure up a picture in the mind’s eye. OK, so much of what we get out of a poem is what we put into it – either through conscious effort in reading it or through memories, emotions, recollections and knowledge mulling around in our subconscious. This poem reflects something of the author’s Christian faith and the landscape of the parish in which he served. However, it also contains, for me at least, a revolutionary idea that a thing may be constantly changing but at the same time be finished, complete. The change we see outside this window is not because improvement is needed – it does not need to be made better – but because, change, movement (“the dynamic”) is a characteristic of what it is. If the view did not change it would be still, i.e. lifeless. In a way this is a truth that is obvious once you get it and yet profound – do we not instinctively resist change? Yet change is all around us – in nature, in society, in politics, in our bodies growing up/old and so on. We might sometimes complain that change seems to be for change’s sake, but sometimes change happens because it is the nature of the beast, so to speak. Change works on different time scales from the ephemeral world of fashion at one end to the epochal pace of geology at the other. It takes a certain amount of discernment to know which changes to let go and which ones we should try to shape. Mostly we can’t stop change but we can sometimes change change so to speak.
I wonder how many days of gazing out at the clouds and busy skies of Wales if took for Revd R. S. Thomas reach his conclusions about the created world? And, as is sometimes the way when writing poetry, perhaps he did not realise it until after he had written his poem.