Rector's Ramblings August 23, 2017
This week’s solar eclipse was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life. While there are a bunch of clichéd insights I could make about light and darkness, or shadows and blockages, or even orbits and special glasses, I think I am simply struck by the natural beauty of it (although I can’t guarantee that I won’t slip a cliché in here somewhere. The whole process of witnessing my first eclipse was awe-some from start to finish. I had seen pictures of eclipses before, but never experienced one. I had done my research and knew what to expect, and still I was blown away by it. It was so cool, in fact, that I kept smiling and saying things like, “wow,” for a good thirty minutes after we had gotten back in the car to head home.
We drove up to South Carolina for the day to sit in the “path of totality,” and because we rightly predicted much more traffic after the eclipse than before, we did not stay to watch the second half of the eclipse. Shortly after totality we packed up the car and got on the road. I was glad that I had ordered eclipse glasses and a camera filter months ago, as I heard and saw people scrambling to find things to watch the eclipse at the last minute. I am also glad for the good fortune in finding a viewing spot that was not obscured by cloud cover. All in all, it was about as perfect as it could have been, even with the two extra hours of driving time in traffic to get home.
For me, even with our modern scientific calculations that could tell us exactly where and when and for how long the eclipse would last, I could not help but recognize how complex and amazing God’s creation is. This event ranks up with a powerful storm or the majesty of a sweeping mountain range, or the wideness of the seas, when it comes to recognizing nature’s power. That, in turn, reminds us how small we are.
It did occur to me, however, that ancient civilizations would have been even more blown away by such an event. History tells us that different cultures ascribed different causes and reasons for such events. One eclipse caused a battle to cease, as both sides interpreted the darkness as a sign from God that they should stop fighting. Some would shoot flaming arrows at the sun in the hopes of relighting it. Other cultures thought the sun had been devoured by a dragon, or that the sun was merely sick. Regardless, a total eclipse can be terrifying, especially when we don’t know that it’s coming.
I also had the opportunity this week to minister to a family in our congregation who received a stunning and unexpected diagnosis. The kind no one wants to get; the kind that moves faster than we anticipate; the kind that causes the doctor to tell us there’s nothing more they can do. It always catches us completely off guard. It too, is terrifying, but more for its randomness than a message God might be trying to send. Sometimes we still think like ancient peoples. When something terrifying happens, we try to assign divine causation or purpose to it. But chaos is part of the creation. God set the world in motion, knowing that beauty and creativity would also be balanced by death and destruction. It’s how the cosmos works. Some things, like orbits, are predictable. Others, like cancer, aren’t. There is no reason for such illnesses; it’s not a test or a lesson from God, nor is it punishment. It just is.
Sometimes the chaos that is possible in this world aligns directly with us, and it feels as though we have been singled out. It’s easy to forget that things we experience aren’t meant just for us. The eclipse was no sign from God for anyone in particular – not when it swept across the entire country and was visible to millions. It would be silly to think that it was there just or me. But it sort of felt like it, right in the moment of totality, it was all consuming and very personal. Illness can feel the same way. It brings out the “wow,” in us, but not the good kind.
When I saw the totality of the eclipse, I said a little prayer, acknowledging God’s creation and its complex beauty, rejoicing for the divine on display before me, as I felt so small. When I learned of the diagnosis, I said another little prayer, asking for the beauty of God’s love to surround a family, rejoicing for the faith I knew was already sustaining them, again feeling so small. The eclipse isn’t personal, it just is. Which is remarkably similar to what I was told by the woman who had gotten the worst news you can get: “It is what it is.” That’s a pretty good summary of life. It is what it is and we get to choose what we make of it.
I pray we can acknowledge the beauty and the love around us when we see it, and rejoice in every moment of grace we get to experience. Some things only come around once in a lifetime, and we don’t want to miss them when they do. God is with us through the ups and the downs, the joys and the sorrows of everyday life; the ones we know are coming and the ones we don’t. It’s not a game we play to figure out why things happen and what they have to mean. It’s a process of trusting and seeking and making meaning. I’m grateful that I got to see this celestial wonder this week, and I’m humbled that I get to walk a difficult journey with people I care about. On both counts, one a joy, one a challenge, I still have no confession other than, God is good.
Almighty and everlasting God, you made the universe with all its marvelous order, its atoms, worlds, and galaxies, and the infinite complexity of living creatures: Grant that, as we probe the mysteries of your creation, we may come to know you more truly, and more surely fulfill our role in your eternal purpose; in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.