Moses received ten words on the mountain, surrounded by glory. Kavod is the Hebrew word for glory, and it shows up on Sinai like a lightning cloud, like a fiery darkness. Rumor has it, kavod was also the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Balrog, a creature of shadow and flame, the sinister and lesser counterpart to Yahweh’s presence. That cloud of fiery glory represents the first time God allowed God’s presence to be tamed.

I have had my own mountaintop experiences, and there’s always a peculiarity to them. I’ve always counted it a great privilege to have such encounters with God. Though I have certainly never seen a physical cloud during those times, I will testify to the fact that once you get alone with God for a long time and are only concerned with worship, you might as well be stuck in a cloud, because you can’t see anything else. In those moments of divine proximity, you realize that, no matter what’s happening at the bottom of the mountain or outside of the cloud, everything will conform to God’s design so long as you remain in the shadow of the Almighty.

Adapted from the Story Lectionary, page 139