Super-powers and Jesus clouds

23Jul08

I am a big fan of the TV series Heroes and I am proud to announce to the world that I have developed a super-power. Regrettably I cannot fly, or make myself invisible, or turn into a shirt-bursting, raging green goliath – with nevertheless perfect dental work – at the slightest provocation. 

Maybe it’s because of the years I have spent working in radio but I have discovered that I have the – perhaps – unusual ability to zone in on other people’s conversations in public places, and other noises going on around me, while still appearing to be focussed on the conversation I am continuing with whoever is with me. 

OK, so maybe it’s not that impressive after all but it got you reading, didn’t it?

Anyway it’s not entirely irrelevant to my musings tonight because, recently, I was intrigued when a little girl sitting a few rows down on the train that I was travelling on pointed out of the window and said, “Look, Daddy! Jesus clouds!” 

Sure enough, the vision above the horizon would have been worthy of any Hollywood biblical epic. And what a great way, I thought, to describe it. The “Jesus Clouds” were parting and the sun was bursting through, casting dazzling, diagonal shafts of light in broad array onto the fields below. All that was missing was the strains of a heavenly choir blissfully ooh-ing and aah-ing. 

Just that little phrase, “Jesus Clouds” made me think that it’s interesting how Hollywood depicts the birth of a new religion. Or the moment when a great prophet gets the first sense of his divine mission. There can be in no doubt that what we are witnessing is a momentous event in human history. 

But does it actually happen that way? If the Hollywood version was real, no one could have missed that something of cosmic significance was unfolding in their back yards. The good citizens of an archetypal dusty village would all be out of their houses, faces bathed in light, saying to their spouses, “Look, dear! God must be speaking with that bloke who went up the mountain!” To which, the spouse would reply, “Oh no, not again” realising the concomitant sandstorms, plagues and earthquakes would not be long in arriving.

God, I think, is rarely so obvious. 

Earlier this month, UNESCO named the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel a World Heritage site. It is a majestic golden-domed building in Haifa, set amidst beautiful terraced gardens that have attracted literally millions of pilgrims and visitors. This Shrine contains the mortal remains of one of the Prophet-Founders of the Bahá’í Faith. 

Surrounded as it is in such conspicuous glory and encompassed nightly in countless iridescent lights, it is hard to visualise that the Báb’s mission began with an announcement to a single listener, a young scholar carrying out a home visit, as we might call it today. Now, this is the way a world faith begins, not with a bang, but not with a whimper either, to misquote an oft-quoted quote. There were no ‘Jesus clouds’ or heavenly choirs on that still, silent night in Shiraz. But the reverberations that went out have come to fruition in the worldwide Bahá’í community. 

I wonder if the birth of a religion, then, is maybe more like the undersea epicentre of an earthquake – silent, hidden, profoundly deep – but the impact of which will be felt and noticed everywhere in time as true superheroes emerge to champion its power.

Another thing, overheard on another train journey. The train had inexplicably come to a halt in the countryside. I had to smile as a small boy sitting a few rows down asked his parents, with high-pitched curiosity, “Are we in the middle of nowhere?”

We were. And I am, writing this on a train. So it’s time I get back to my earwigging on other people’s conversations.

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One Response to “Super-powers and Jesus clouds”

  1. I have been thoroughly enjoying reading your blog (which I discovered this morning by following a link from facebook)… would have loved to make intelligent remarks but the guilt is blocking my mind (I should be working) 🙂 I’ll try and come back soon!


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