Monday, June 14, 2010

The Cloud and Hobab

Monday, June 14, 2010 -- Week of Proper 6, Year Two
Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea, 379

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 971)
Psalms 80 (morning)       77, [79] (evening)
Numbers 9:15-23; 10:29-36
Romans 1:1-15
Matthew 17:14-21

The fiery cloud of God in the wilderness both reveals and covers God's presence.  Moses and the people can see the cloud; they can observe the appearance of fire.  They know God is with them.  But they cannot see God, for the divine mystery is shrouded in the darkness and light of the fiery cloud.  God is mysterious and free; unknowable and beyond definition.  God is present and dwelling among them; leading and guiding them through the wilderness into the Promised Land.

It is that way for us as well.  We see the presence of God in the beauty and wonder of creation, in the gifts of the sacraments, and in the relationships of the community.  Yet we cannot look directly upon the mystery of God, who is free and beyond our depths.  The mysterious presence.

The reading from Numbers 9 says that the people would travel according to the command of God by following the cloud.  When the cloud remained, the people stayed in the camp.  When the cloud lifted, the people would set out to travel.  Even with the lifting of the cloud, when they can see ahead to travel, there is a certain mystery about the travel and the destination.  The people must move with faith, not knowing everything about their journey.  Trusting each day that God will lead and guide them through the wilderness, day by day.  We are given sufficient knowledge, not all knowledge.

The cloud is a powerful symbol for divine presence.  When the disciples witnessed the glory of Jesus manifested in communion with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, a cloud then covered the vision.  When it lifted, Jesus was alone, looking like he always did.  After his resurrection, when he had appeared to the disciples from time to time for forty days, a cloud took him from their sight, and Jesus ascended into heaven.  One of the classics of contemplative devotion is the Cloud of Unknowing, inviting us through prayer into the cloud of divine presence where we let go of our thoughts and feelings and allow God to be the content of our prayer.  Centering Prayer is a modern reclamation of the tradition of the prayer of the Cloud.  The cloud is an image of the surrender of consent.

Yet we are also called to be responsible and to take responsibility for our own journey.  We are responsible for our spiritual growth and for our preparation and the skill along the way.  We read in the second part of this passage from Numbers that Moses urges his father-in-law to travel with the people of Israel.  His father-in-law (here named Hobab; elsewhere named Jethro or Reuel) is a member of another tribe; he is not an Israelite.  Moses promises to treat Hobab well, and asks him to leave his kindred and travel with Israel, "for you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will serve as eyes for us." 

Although Moses follows the cloud, he also takes advantage of the best available knowledge of the desert wilderness by using Hobab as a guide for finding appropriate camping places.  Hobab knows where the oasis are.  He knows the shelters and the water.  Moses will follow God's lead.  Moses will also bring the best human knowledge to bear on his travel and work.

One might look on this arrangement as the positive, creative relationship between faith and knowledge, between religion and science, between unknowing and knowing, between revelation and research, between intuition and logic.  We follow the mysterious presence of God, led by the cloud.  As we do so, we use the best information and knowledge available to support our journey. 

The numinous mystery draws us on by faith.  We walk according to the best insights human wisdom can offer us.  We need both sources for our pilgrimage.



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About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

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Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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