Pilgrims Looking for the Sun
This weekend across America, our transportation and information highways will glut with millions of eclipse-chasers travelling from the far corners of the globe order to find an unobstructed view along the “total eclipse” zone spanning the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment for many. A total eclipse of this nature hasn’t spanned this country for a century, though, the upcoming century holds many such eclipses in store. I myself will be joining the ranks of eclipse-chasers, making a relatively brief journey south to my parent’s property in Sparta, IL, which is comfortably within the totality zone.
I’m a latecomer in educating myself about this rare event. Only after watching two videos (by Smarter Every Day and Vox) and discussing the astronomically phenomenal event with my friend, Kacey, did my eyes begin to open in wonder and amazement at the unique phenomena of a total eclipse. Previously, I thought, oh, I’ll be in Champaign, where there will be a partial (93%) solar eclipse – that’s good enough, right? But, a partial eclipse is a tease, as compared to the complete event. As one person has said, it’s like going to the ice cream shop but only looking at the flavors and never actually enjoying a bowl.
What caught me off guard was how I was moved to wonder, tears and worship as I watched video footage of a previous total solar eclipse.
Darkness hung over the earth as an unexpected and unwelcomed friend and then “BAM!” a blaze of radiant, resplendent light broke through. An eruption of awe and wonder is inevitable. We are creatures made to worship! Several years ago, a viral youtube video shows footage of a double-rainbow and the narration by a man (perhaps in an altered state of consciousness) exploding in wonder and joy at the sight of the double and even triple rainbow.
As someone has said, eternity is written into the hearts of man. We know we are small and finite, but yet we swim in an ocean ablaze with beauty, design, power and order. A total solar eclipse event is a gateway into this reverent state.
In the mundane, a sunrise and sunset, a rainstorm or an autumn tree certainly can – and should inspire awe and worship of God – but they become so familiar. A solar eclipse is a rarified moment to reflect on the magnitude, order and beauty of our intelligently crafted universe. For a few brief moments we remember that we are limited creatures, dependent upon a blazing orb of plasma 93 million miles away and that there’s another desolate lunar sphere much closer to us causing an atmospheric transformation that we feel unraveled by. Darkness will march outward, temperatures will plummet, animals will freak out, fear easily will consume many. But even the moon’s darkening effects can be redeemed for good as we observe mesmerizing luminescence around the moon (the “diamond ring”, Bailey’s Beads, solar flares never before seen by the naked eye, etc) as well as upon the ground (snaking shadows and pinwheels of light).
So, perhaps at a time when we are plummeting down the inward curvature of our collective cultural soul, what we need is to be shaken. To remember we are small. To remember we are mere humans spinning around on this verdant orb as it hurtles through the cosmos. To remember that if we lose our sense of childlike wonder, we have betrayed ourselves. To remember that we are not in control, but we are dependent, created beings.
But also, to stop and reflect upon the metaphysical queries which lie deep within every earthling who has ever trod this terra firma: What does this mean?
Every year, millions make a hajj to Mecca, making it the largest gathering of humans on the globe. The hajj is mandated by Islamic teachings for all who are economically and physically able. The modern day umbraphile’s pilgrimage is spontaneous and of free will. Either way, we are creatures who seek something outside of ourselves, something to bring meaning, joy and hope. Something to satiate the hunger within us for transcendent, mystical encounters.
The majesty of the solar eclipse will be a fleeting event, lasting just a few short minutes in the maximum totality zone in Southern Illinois and Western Kentucky.
In God’s wisdom, he has placed innumerable evidentiary encounters for all humans in every land, language and generation. A solar eclipse is certainly one such evidence.
But, the general revelation of God – as beautiful and necessary as it is for us to know the complex, transcendent, infinitely wise nature of the Creator God – does not complete the case for the totality of the character and purpose of God. Specific revelation is needed to penetrate the human heart.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20
God who made us, knows us better than we know ourselves. In his self-giving love and humble compassion, he sent forth a far more majestic and permanent cascade of radiant light in the incarnation of Jesus the Messiah.
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:3
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-4
No darkness – no seen or unseen power, no human or extraterrestrial agency, no galactic or interstellar phenomena – shall eclipse the loving luminance of the beloved Son of the Father. The rightful King of the cosmos has come to earth, freely laid down his life in love for the lost sons and daughters of God so that all things in creation might be reconciled to God and then victoriously arose from the grave as the firstfruits of a new world that is even-as-we-speak breaking into this old and dying world order.
We see that chaotic, divisive old world at play all around us, within and without. We cannot out run it. We cannot ignore it. We cannot manipulate it into a permanence.
I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ brilliant reflection in Meditation in a Toolshed. There he is caught off guard by the beauty of a shaft of light pouring through a window which sparkles with dust particles and travels to him from the far-away source of all light. He reflects that we must be careful not to just look at the beam, but rather along the beam. So, as the lunar disc begins to slip in between us and the life-giving center of our solar system, and we find ourselves staring at the sun, let’s not only name, identify, analyze and photograph the eclipse, let’s look along the beam and get caught up in worship of our God who loves us enough to reveal his grandeur through nature splendor and most significantly through his coming to us in the life of the Son.
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:40