by Dr. Becky Towne
I love gazing at the night sky. I am drawn to the light of stars—so many light years away—and am fascinated with the many phases and faces of the moon. Lately, my attention has been drawn to Venus, shining brightly in the evening sky. Called the “Evening Star,” I have learned that Venus is covered with thick clouds and that it is the reflection of the sun’s light off of the clouds, which provides the brilliant, steady light. Now I’m fascinated with the clouds.
I like the tall, fluffy clouds of long, summer days, which often provide momentary relief from the intense rays of the hot sun, and I also relish in the power of the dark, furious clouds of thunderstorms. I wonder about the clouds on Venus. Do they provide relief from the much closer rays of the sun or do they offer strange atmospheric phenomenon? Fraser Cain, writing for Universe Today (http://www.universetoday.com/36871/clouds-on-venus/), notes that the climate on Venus is “hellish” with temperatures around 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The clouds are made of sulfur dioxide and are completely opaque. They rain sulfuric acid. That’s a far cry from my fluffy summer clouds or even the dark thunderheads described above.
In Dark Night of the Soul (Book II, Chapter XVI), John of the Cross described the soul’s journey through the cloudiness or obscurity of darkness as opportunities for sensual, interior, and spiritual desires and faculties to become darkened from their natural light so that those same desires could then be illuminated and purged by the Divine. When those desires and faculties are hindered by God, the soul can find security against being led astray by them and can experience freedom from its own shackles as well as the shackles provided by the enemies of the soul—the world and the evil one. As the journey progresses, the soul experiences a growing number of benefits that come from the Father of Lights in a divine and spiritual manner, rather than self-imposed benefits that tend to be human and natural.
Perhaps you have encountered a “dark night” not knowing what it was. During a dark night, the “clouds” seem opaque, the “darkness” seems almost palatable, and “showers of blessing” may feel like sulfuric rain. When we are journeying with God, however, we learn that God’s purposes may be experienced through light and darkness. The clouds along the way may be providing momentary relief or powerful cleansing. That’s why the Psalmist could say with faith, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps 23:4).
The Psalmist also wrote, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them?” (Ps 8:3-4). Perhaps when you gaze at the night sky, you will pay attention to the heavens, and, as you reflect on what you see, ask God for your own insights from the clouds—not just those in the skies.
Dr. Becky Towne, DMin, is Professor of Christian Spirituality, Associate Academic Dean and Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Houston Graduate School of Theology.