On Monday, August 21st, 2017, we will all look up from life on the ground and gaze into the heavens. The unfolding of light turning to darkness in the middle of the day will captivate our imaginations and spirits. The moon will dos-à-dos with the sun in an elaborate orbital dance that takes place light years apart, transpires in minutes, and serves us a full course feast for celebration. The idea that the distance between the sun and moon is in perfect proportion so the moon covers its larger sister is a calculation that simply testifies to the miracle of creation.
Last week a friend gave me a small purple carrot on the side of the Harpeth River while we were taking a break from canoeing. As I had never eaten a purple carrot, a root vegetable intricately woven in the depths of the earth, I glanced down and noticed how the inside looked like a microcosm of the universe with a starburst center radiating in gold, orange, and reds into a dark sphere. Popping that star-burst into my mouth I felt the sheer delight of tasting the universe in my mouth. I felt that same delight just a few weeks earlier watching my three sons skipping flat stones along a glacial stream on an island off the coast of Canada.
The cold turquoise waters, cascading from a mountaintop, along with fine silt from copper and quartz, had flattened rocks to skipping perfection. On the second day around noon, the boys set down their rods and began the dance of a child, a rock, and water, counting the with pride the number of ripples and how far the rock traveled. Despite all the trouble and heartache in this world, it was a delight how for a moment they could lay everything down, skip a rock and laugh. Delight in a carrot, a rock, and an Eclipse, is a mortal joy that lives beyond contemplation and awe. It sweeps us up in wonder and invites us to a place where the eternal and temporal meet. Such a cosmic meeting awaits us not only on Monday, calling us to ancient truths and into the future as it sweeps across the sky, but can reach us anywhere if our hearts are open.
If you have ever seen a solar eclipse, you can’t help but feel excited. The first time I saw a partial eclipse my classroom made a homemade box with a pinhole and mirror to peer through at the end, so we could see a teeny dark reflection of the phenomenon. I couldn’t fathom how it was unfolding and seeing it backwards through that box made it more confusing. I remember the moment I put the box down and looked directly at the haloed sun. I just looked for a second; I knew I was breaking all the rules, but I couldn’t help it. Some 40 years later, I still carry that moment with me. In my mind, I could picture the earth rotating. Then I could add the moon orbiting the earth in a tight dance. I could even then put the earth spinning the moon orbiting in a big circle around the sun. But when I tried to put myself on a dot on the earth as it spun and the moon orbited and it all circled the sun, the vision I was trying to hold in my mind’s eye became too much. Putting my small self into the picture of this vast expanse of interstellar space on this fragile earth our island home felt impossible to calculate.
There has always been wonder and delight when the earth turns dark in the middle of the day. The stories in scripture, history, and lore, fill volumes. It is said that Nat Turner had a vision in 1830 during the eclipse that it was time to rise. History recounts that Lawrence of Arabia carried an almanac that predicted the eclipse at the turn of the century and he used that knowledge to storm Aqaba. During total eclipse of 1919, it is said that science changed forever. In that moment, Einstein’s theory of relatively, just a hypothesis that star light gets bent when it travels through massive bodies, was proven true. The eclipse was part of the unfolding plan of our creator God in the stories of faith, mystics from the 13th century to Annie Dillard have marveled at the wonder of God’s unfolding creation.
Let us take time to not only behold the sun, but hold the promise that the stories of our lives are also being changed forever as we look towards something so momentous.
We are looking into the past as we gaze at light formed thousands of years before, we are looking at our present with more humility and courage, and we are looking into the future. We will all carry the story of the eclipse of 2017 with us. We will see in that brief delightful moment our futures sweeping by as quickly as the moon before the sun.
We might tell the story with a prequel. It was the summer of 2017. It had been a hot summer full of trouble that included Neo-Nazis and white supremacists orchestrating horrific demonstrations, a political climate full of scandal, terrorists ramming cars across the globe against innocent people, refugees stuck in overpopulated and underserved camps, prisons overflowing and an opioid epidemic sweeping the nation. But then we will share the event itself…
On a hot summer day in August, we closed businesses and schools. People left their desks and computers and went outside. Collectively we stopped and stared through coveted glasses, not easy to procure, at the magnificence of the dance of the universe taking place before us. We, not even a dot in the scale of what was passing before us, took it in and delighted. We don’t know the story yet.
Maybe I will tell my future grandchildren about that day and how when I stared at the sky I dreamt of them. Maybe all the mothers and fathers who have lost their children this year to violence, addiction, racism, disease, will recount years later the connection to their beloved children that are part of the stardust of creation in those precious moments. Maybe the disciples of peace and justice in this world will recount the inspiration they gained from the moment when they felt part of something bigger than themselves, as love woven into the fabric of creation and vowed to keep going enveloped them.
So, as you take delight on Monday, imagine all the people looking up with you. Imagine a collective prayer throwing its arms around the world like Saturn’s rings. Hope and pray for peace, which may feel as small as the moon, but sometimes can shadow great fiery storms as big as the sun.
In that moment feel your smallness, see our connections, and pray for peace and love in the whole wide world.