In researching a sermon on “Pride” for this week, I re-visited an article I wrote back on August 21, 2017 about the total eclipse most of North America shared in. It was a fun event to remember, and a good exercise getting my head out of 2022 for a few minutes. Hope you enjoy it.
August 21, 2017 — Los Angeles
9:45am — A total eclipse of the sun hasn’t occurred over American soil since 1918, but in less than an hour, a 70-mile swath of darkness will cut a diagonal across the country from Oregon to South Carolina. Down here in So-Cal, we’ll get to enjoy 65% darkness, which would surprise family and friends who assume that Hollywood perpetually resides in complete darkness.
9:50am — Just read in a newsfeed that the eclipse is traveling at 2,400mph as it crosses over the western perimeter then slows to 1,400mph over the Midwest. Which is as it should be. Life does slow down in the heartland. Living off the soil makes a person more grounded, less driven, at peace with man and God.
9:55am — Of course people are all going a little bonkers about this event. Read a story this morning of a veritable tent city that has sprung up near Madras, Oregon of folks from all over, driving or flying in to be in the “zone of totality”. It sounds like religious fervor and it wouldn’t surprise me if an actual Woodstock-style commune emerges from this event, led by an Oregon farmer who leaves his cranberry farm claiming to have had a vision who then writes a best-seller called “How To Find Your Zone Of Totality”.
10:00am — But why Madras? With a 70 mile wide, 3,000 mile long path to choose from, it would seem that everyone can find their own private eclipse party patch-of-earth. But there you go — proof that “it’s not good for man to be alone.” Pain shared is halved, pleasure shared is doubled, and eclipses shared are twice as cosmic.
10:05am — No, we didn’t buy glasses. And starting to regret that a bit now as people around us “Ooh and Ahh”. We’re trying to take selfies, and use the video camera but it’s not cutting it. A neighbor just loaned me her glasses, and sure enough, I couldn’t help it — I went, “Ooh and Aah.” In spite of the endless warnings to avoid looking at the eclipse, I’m curious how many appointments to eye doctors will be made a month from now. Now that I’m thinking about it, I read an article about glasses being hawked by scalpers which are defective. How do I know that these glasses I’ve borrowed are…oh, just never mind.
10:20am — Totality has arrived on American soil. I’m watching on NASA’s live feed. It is spectacular. “We can simulate this in a lab but nothing is as perfect as nature,” said one of the commentators. Or “nature’s God”, I want to add.
Another commentator said this morning, “Keep in mind that the sun is 400 times larger than the moon but it’s also 400 times further away from the earth than the moon is, so it’s an equation that lines these up just perfectly enough that the moon totally blocks out the sun.” Oh really? Just perfectly enough. Hmm. Imagine that.
And come to find out, out of 141 celestial moons with “eclipse potential” in our solar system, only two are capable of producing a total solar eclipse, both around Saturn. But one of the moons, Pandora, is like a wobbly potato so it can’t produce a perfect black hole with a corona, like our earth-moon dance. And Epimetheus produces an eclipse whose totality lasts just .6 seconds, so there’s no oohing and ahhing from Saturnalians.
12:20 — All done. Charleston, South Carolina just experienced totality (coupled with a cool lightning storm out in the ocean — take that Madras.) “Spiritual,” said Tom Brokaw, amongst dozens of similar comments that are usually heard only in church. But he’s right. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” says Psalm 19:1. If most of us spent more time with our heads turned skyward like we did today, rather than looking down at our feet shuffling along, or at our cellphones, we might have more transcendent thoughts. The eclipse was great, but God puts on a show every day, for those with eyes to see it.
12:30 — And what lessons about us humans does an eclipse teach? I think of three quick takeaways. First (and this is the low-hanging fruit), we are such small and fragile creatures. We strut the earth like we are the center-of-the-universe, and then the universe comes along and puts us in our place. Humility is a good emotion to feel on days like this, because it shows us our need for something, or Someone, much bigger than ourselves.
Second, though small, we humans are also rather remarkable, amazing creatures. It’s not a contradiction to recognize our smallness and our greatness in the same breath. We are created in God’s image, Scripture tells us, so we possess God-like powers. Using that ability enabled us to know exactly when this eclipse would arrive (and when the next one is coming — I’m making my reservations for Buffalo in 2024 as soon as I’m done here.) Not only that, but we had the audacious wisdom to position cameras and commentators everywhere and anywhere we could, from earth to sea to outer space. And God is pleased with this. After all, he gave us this ability. No doubt he whispered a few, “Attaboys,” from his perch today.
Third, the eclipse reminded us that though we are God’s image-bearers, that image in us is like a cracked mirror. Marred by an inbred evil, we humans fall far short of reflecting God’s moral heart. If I heard it once, I heard it a dozen times on TV today, “Why can’t we be like this more often? Why does it take something like this to bring us together?” (I expected Tom Brokaw to break out into, “Why Can’t Every Day Be Like Christmas?”)
I hope I’m wrong but I imagine getting out of Madras will be a lot less fun that getting in. People’s better angels can prevail for a short while, but it doesn’t take long for our true nature to kick in. (I heard the National Guard was called in to Madras.) Which is why at the end of the day, we need to learn to do more often what we did so easily today — look up. For a redemption that is very near.
Bear Clifton, writer and screenwriter, is the pastor of BridgeWay Community Church in California, Maryland. His blogs, screenplays and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, “A Sparrow Could Fall”, and his latest — “Living Under The Cross”, a collection of essays on the Beatitudes — all available through Amazon.