How often do you look at the sky? I’m sure the answer is multiple times every day—even if you live in a major city like I do there’s still an awful lot of sky, but how often do you actually look at it?
I think we know implicitly that there’s something bad about not being able to see the sky—though it probably has as much to do with our need for natural light as anything else. If you’re asked to live or work in a room without a window, or there is a window but the next building is so close all you can see is a wall, it’s inherently demoralising.
Because there’s something uplifting about the sky. Have you noticed?
Perhaps you would expect me to point out that the word for ‘sky’ and ‘heaven’ is the same in Old Testament Hebrew and draw some sort of conclusion that we need to be able to see the heavens to be human. There’s probably a point hidden in there somewhere, though I think it’s reaching a bit. If you’ve been around nuakh for a bit, you know I think everything teaches the story of God, so it’s not wrong to think like this.
No, I’d like to make a simpler point. Wonder is good for us.
When I look at the sky, I think of God. And not for any complicated theological reason, but for a profoundly simple one: the sky is beautiful.
You might not feel the same way about it as I do, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a boring sky. Even when the sky is an unending morass of steely grey cloud that stretches from horizon to horizon, I’ll give you that it’s technically dull, there’s a lack of sunlight, but it’s hardly boring. Those endless clouds are never flat even they when don’t have the complex structures of thunderclouds or when you can’t see the wind change their shape, there’s still something about the way light subtly plays across their contours that moves me.
And then a small patch of golden light somehow breaks through and the whole tableau shifts and changes in an instant, and it’s like something holy breaks in fleetingly. Which is what all of creation is like all the time. As Alexander Schmemann says, “creation is shot through with the presence of God.”
I think what gets me about the sky is how changeable it is. When I lived in Nottingham, I did a job for a few years where I commuted to work on the Tram. On my way home each day I’d get off the tram at the end of the line and make my way down the hill to my house. As I traversed the car park and made my way around the large concrete structures placed there to stop travellers setting up camp in the park & ride—which were largely unsuccessful as far as I could see—there was a moment just before I got out the tram stop onto the main road where the sky was framed.
We were on top of a hill, and the trees seemed to frame a patch of sky that was directly in front of me as I began my trudge home. Every single day it was different.
Some days it would be a few wisps of chalky cloud brushed across a pale blue sky, perhaps in the height of summer I would see a blue baked fierce by the rays of the sun, or at the right time of year the light would turn everything golden and all I could see be lit by a strange internal fire.
As I live in England, most of the time I looked at clouds. Big and small, whipped by the wind and lazily changing shape—the sort of large clouds that play charades with you and the small clouds where you can’t tell one for the next. More often than I’d like they’d be hurling rain at me.
Every day they were different. Every day framed like a painting. Which is what it was. I came to notice, as everyone else got in their cars and moved into the stream of traffic and I walked down the hill, that because the sky changes so fast it is likely that no one in the entire world will see this exact patch of sky except me.
Which means that, just perhaps, it was painted by a God of rich delight just for me.
In my better moments this thought would floor me and lift my spirits, even if only for a moment, to contemplate my Father in heaven who loves and who painted this sky just for me. I would also think of the thousand skies I would never see because they were not painted for me.
I’ve never managed to take a picture of a sky I really loved that captured it in any way. I imagine it’s possible with the right equipment and photography skill, but I do like the notion that it isn’t possible at all—it was painted just for me, and then it’s gone in a whisper. A fleeting moment of grace, of pure gift, of heaven meeting earth in quiet surprise. A moment of wonder.
Why not look up at the sky every now and again, enjoy the glory, and think on the painter? If he would orchestrate this to bring me delight, how much more will he protect me, love me, do me good, conform me to the image of Christ, grant me to share in Christ’s suffering and all the other good things he does?
How much more indeed. More than the distance from one horizon to the next.
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