By Michael H. Brown
Are Images Seen In Clouds ‘Illusions’– Or God Inflecting Himself Into Our Realm?
Have you ever seen interesting forms in the clouds — especially symbols of holiness? If you have, you’re not alone. We’re constantly sent interesting photographs of unusual formations in clouds or in ice or the condensation of a window (as recently occurred at a hospital in Milton, Massachusetts). In fact, it’s hard to summarize all the various manifestations. We have seen formations that look like Christ, or the Blessed Mother, or doves, or angels, or crosses, chalices, Hosts — just about everything.
Just the other day we carried the account of what many believe is an image of the Virgin Mary on a chimney in Delano, California. It occurs from 8:45 each night until about 5:30 in the morning. Is that a product of some form of light that goes on during that stretch of time — or a real manifestation?
What we can say is that it’s not alone. In the same state, at Thermal, hundreds have flocked to see illuminated “crosses” that appear in house windows. Clear across the country, in Clearwater, Florida, is what looks like the Guadalupe Virgin on the oxidized glass of a former office building. We’ve written extensively about that — and believe it’s a real manifestation. In Saskatchewan, Canada, are at least a half dozen locations where the Blessed Mother and other holy figures have been configured on frosty or foggy windows. At Coogee Beach near Sydney, Australia, many gathered earlier this year to watch light, shadow, and a line of fencing combine to form what strikingly resembled the Virgin Mary. In Salt Lake City some kind of fluid has exuded to form what many see as the Guadalupe Virgin. It was spotted by Graciela Garcia — an elderly woman who saw an image of the Guadalupe Virgin on the stump of a limb that city groomers had cut from the elm. In the Inwood section of Manhattan, an image of Mary was seen as a formation in another tree just before September 11.
The list goes on. We have seen striking images in frosted windows, in photographs taken from places such as Lourdes and Fatima, in everything from the Communion Host to shrubs. Are such manifestation real? Does the supernatural manifest in this fashion? Does God send us such inflections?
Of course, this is subject to interpretation. Faith is in the eye of the beholder — and that’s how Christ has designed it. He’ll give us hints, He’ll work with nature in certain ways, inflecting Himself (usually in a subtle manner) on the reality around us.
But He always wants to leave room for faith.
Scientists tend to scoff at such things, labeling the phenomenon “pareidolia,” which they describe as a type of “illusion” or “misperception” involving a vague or obscure stimulus being perceived as something clear and distinct. “For example, in the discolorations of a burnt tortilla one sees the face of Jesus Christ,” says a skeptics dictionary. “Or one sees the image of Mother Theresa or Ronald Reagan in a cinnamon bun or the face of a man in the moon.”
If that sounds cynical, it is. Too often images etched in the reality around us are tossed away as either illusion or coincidence when they are meant to bolster us. Granted, folks can go too far. Often they read images into tremendously vague outlines. We can conjure things up!
But we ourselves have been witness to incredible formations in clouds, and that’s a good focus for us: clouds. God has always used them. Look at Scripture: in Exodus there is the cloud that led Moses and in Genesis the Lord speaks of inflecting rainbows into clouds. Thick, dense clouds were sent by the Lord in Old Testament times. And what about the cloud that was seen by Elijah and his servant on Mount Carmel — a strange cloud the size of a man’s hand? Was this not a supernatural prefigurement?
And if so, why not in our times also?
The photo above of what certainly appears like an angel carrying a child was taken by a woman in Canada who had just lost a six-month-old grandchild to sudden infant death syndrome. If it’s a coincidence, it’s a good one. Below are other interesting figures in the cloud from a nuclear bomb test in the Pacific and in the wispy clouds of Medjugorje — where hundreds of such images have been recorded. There is also a photo of a robed man in clouds. It has been around for years, supposedly taken from a plane. A hoax? Double exposure? On September 11, dozens of photos appeared with what looked like both demonic and holy figures in the smoke pouring from the World Trade Center. Even CNN and other mainstream media outlets were impressed enough to carry stories about it.
Still, the Church is hard to convince. In Massachusetts, it has deemed that the window image is not a formal miracle because it could have occurred through natural processes — which of course is true.
But does that negate involvement of the supernatural? While we’re on earth, does not God mainly work within natural laws?
“In the Bible clouds are always associated with God,” noted a preacher named Oswald Chambers. “Clouds are the sorrows, sufferings, or providential circumstances, within or without our personal lives, which actually seem to contradict the sovereignty of God. Yet it is through these very clouds that the Spirit of God is teaching us how to walk by faith. If there were never any clouds in our lives, we would have no faith. ‘The clouds are the dust of His feet (Nahum 1:3). They are a sign that God is there.”
They may also be signs of the times — and keep alert, because they are rapidly multiplying.