Driving higher and higher into the Smoky Mountains we watched the temperature drop. Where we once saw grand vistas, clouds now filled our view. Where at first we could see for miles, now we could only see a few feet in front of our car. Up and up we went until we could drive no further. Our original plan was to stop and walk the half mile to a lookout at the highest point in the national park. However, the clouds had another plan for us. We slowly circled around the parking lot and began our return trip, down the hill, through the clouds, and finally back to clear skies below the cloud cover. One minute we were surrounded by clouds, and the next we were in the clear, back to views in all directions, while the clouds remained high above us.
The clouds had their own beauty. At times it felt like we were floating freely in the air or swimming in the ocean on a sea of clouds. In some places green branches floated above the clouds as if suspended in mid air. With occasional breaks in the clouds the sun burst through with rays of light. The dense fog around our truck meant we had to carefully watch where we were going and keep our attention on the cars in front of us as we slowly followed one another into the mountains. I wondered how far we’d have to go to get above the clouds, or if that was even a possibility.
Looking back through my pictures from our visit to the Smoky Mountains many include clouds. There are the early morning pictures with the clouds and sun rising. Pics of the brilliant blue dotted with clouds. And the days where rain fell and gray clouds filled the expansive sky. Some nights the clouds kept the stars from our sight. Almost as familiar as the forests and creeks in the park, the clouds’ presence takes me to our time in the mountains.
Perhaps I’m drawn to the clouds right now as a reminder that my faith at times, like the clouds, seems to come and go. At times I feel strong and resolute while other days I wake with shaking feet. Some days the questions and doubts take center stage and it’s hard to see past them. While other days I can see for miles and rest comfortably in God’s grace. Yet I know that God can hold all of these feelings: doubt and belief, uncertainty and certainty, despair and hope. They all belong to God.
Maybe I needed the clouds to remind me of God’s presence – abiding and deep, covering the greatest mountains and the smallest valleys, claiming the entire world including me. God’s creation is always teaching us something about God and our role in this world. God never fails to use our surroundings as a means to reveal the depth of love and grace given to us.
So today look at the clouds. Open your eyes and see their brilliance. Find shapes and patterns in them. Imagine yourself climbing above them and looking down onto the earth. Pretend that you can feel them. Reach your arms out to the sky. And in the reaching, looking, and feeling of those clouds, trust that God’s arms are reaching back to you.
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is an ordained ELCA pastor, mother of two, and spouse of an ELCA pastor. She lives with her family in Cole Camp, MO. You can read more at her website or follow her work on Facebook.