You Are There (Artful Devotion)

Nimbus II by Berndnaut Smilde
Berndnaut Smilde (Dutch, 1978–), Nimbus II, 2012. Lambda print, 125 × 186 cm. Saatchi Gallery, London.

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.’”

And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

—Exodus 16:9–10

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SONG: “I Cry Out” by a ship at Sea, on Awake, Awake (2012)

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This is one of several passages in the Old Testament in which God appears to Israel in a cloud during their desert journey to the Promised Land, signifying both his aboveness and beyondness and his withness. Here he shows up in response to the Israelites’ groans of hunger, showering down quail and manna (see earlier Artful Devotion, “Open Your Mouth”).

Dovetailing with this divine manifestation described in Exodus is Berndnaut Smilde’s photograph Nimbus II, which shows a cloud hovering inside the sixteenth-century Lady Chapel (Mariakapel) in Hoorn, the Netherlands. Smilde created the cloud by misting the area with water vapor and pumping smoke from a machine; the water particles then stuck to the smoke to form a fleeting installation, lasting only about thirty seconds. The photograph plays with the idea of presence and absence: the Lady Chapel has been vacant since 1968, and yet filling the emptiness is this sign of God’s glorious presence. Like us sometimes, the ancient Israelites had trouble seeing God in their wilderness wanderings. But he was overshadowing them in his protective care the whole time. When they truly looked (per Aaron’s instruction), they saw. When they cried out, God answered.

Nimbus II is one of many photographs from Smilde’s Nimbus series, shot in a variety of locations, from museums and factories to castles and dungeons. The title is a play on words, as a nimbus is both a type of cloud and another word for halo, the divine radiance that encircles the head of Christ and the saints in religious art. For more on this series, see “An artist creates miniature clouds in spaces around the world” by Jim Martin or the book Builded Remnants. You can also take a glimpse behind the scenes in this short video, and this one.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 13, cycle B, click here.

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