Lord, You are Cloud Rider
Sing praises to God and to his name!
Sing loud praises to him who rides the clouds.
His name is the Lord – rejoice in his presence! (Psalm 68:4)
Time passes as quickly and as subtly as the clouds coursing through the sky.
No summer has had more fullness of breadth, depth, and goodness than this one that marks my 60th year. I depart from its gifts full and satisfied without feeling stuffed or indulgent. I am grateful that there is no lament in its departure or regret for a single day of how we lived into our summer.
Today I spent a considerable amount of time on my porch with a calendar in hand remembering each day of my summer: The slow run to Booth Bay Harbor to meet Dave and his daughter Sarah, and Amanda, my daughter, to eat breakfast. The walk down the train tracks with John as he heard a train coming well before I noticed the tracks were humming. The utterly exhausted and jubilant look in Sassy’s face when she held up her new daughter as Becky and I eagerly clamored to catch our first glimpse of our granddaughter Elsa Anne. The riotous terror that came when I heard Steve utter the dreaded words: There is a grizzly bear. The moments with my wife as we snuggled and watched our grandsons, Cole and Van, run naked and glide down a slip’n slide.
Each memory, like a different shaped cloud, filled the sky and exited stage left. And then the sky turned bright blue and all the clouds were whisked away as if the sun demanded an empty stage. I wondered what would come next.
It was a single cloud with an oxen-like team ahead of a mass that could easily be conceived to be a chariot if one knew Psalm 68. It didn’t look exactly like a chariot and its rider, but clouds offer a form and invite the viewer to bring an imagination framed from other sources. To me, the rider and chariot were there but hidden from most other’s view. I couldn’t remember where the cloud rider showed up but a quick search brought the text—Psalm 68. Then I recalled how utterly strange is the metaphor of God as a cloud rider.
My friend Tremper told me decades ago that the image is snatched from Canaanite mythology where Baal is called the cloud rider. Why would an Israelite use a Canaanite image for YHWH? It is brash, unconventional, and disturbing. His/her listeners would have known the source of the allusion and it had to offend.
How dare you compare the Holy One of Israel with a false god? How can you see goodness in what is perverse? Why would you need to borrow from darkness when there are so many other words, phrases, metaphors that could be used to describe our glorious God? In the language of the drug culture it would be like saying God is a ‘sweet high’ or in the horse-track culture that God is a ‘good bet’. God is many words, but he is no less a cloud rider.
I don’t know why Psalm 68 drifted into my end-of-summer reflections. But it did and it came as I was closing the final hours on my summer. What am I to make of the coincidence, especially in light of the sweet sampling of scores of memories from a delicious season?
I sat for many moments and I heard a voice rise up inside of me. “Call me Sweet names from your summer. Praise me from the gifts of your summer; I AM your gift-giver.” If an Israelite can name the Lord after a Canaanite idol, I certainly can name him from the bounty of my summer. I began to do so.
Lord, you are the ice-cream eater.
Lord, you are the brown trout stalker.
Lord, you are the guide sighting a Red fish.
Lord, you are the light refusing to relinquish the darkness to the Western sky.
Lord, you are the tears that streamed down my face when I held my granddaughter for the first time.
Lord, you are the bright eyes of my daughter who is so proud of her sons.
Lord, you are the exhausted slumber of my son whose daughter rises and falls on his chest.
Lord, you are the lush joy of my daughter who is lost and found in love.
Lord, you are the sensuous, kind touch of my wife.
The more names I gave God, the more I found my heart cry out, ‘let it all be over and let it all begin.’
Summer is over; the fall beckons and it is time to let these hours pass and open my heart to what the cloud rider wishes to bring next.
Whatever it will be, his name will increase in praise.