Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Solar Eclipse

“Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles…
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same…
What stranger miracles are there?”
~Walt Whitman, “Miracles”

Last Monday’s solar eclipse dominated the media not only for the day of that rare event but also for weeks leading up to this phenomenon. As people searched for safety glasses to allow viewing of the eclipse and schools determined best policies to protect students from permanent eye damage and people made plans to travel to places where the eclipse was in totality, Alex took all the excitement in stride. After all, he had known this eclipse was coming for quite a while.

Among the various occupations Alex has discussed pursuing over the years, one at the top of his list is astronomer. Ever since he was a little boy, he has been fascinated by the constellations and planets and everything else in the galaxies. Carefully studying the many astronomy books on his bookshelves, Alex has learned a great deal of information about the solar system over the years. This knowledge usually comes forth whenever a category appears on Jeopardy dealing with astronomy, and Alex typically knows all the details about the topic and proudly shares those facts that he has stored over time.

For several years, any time the year 2017 would be mentioned on the news, Alex would always say, “That’s a solar eclipse year.” I knew he had read that somewhere but didn’t give it much thought until recent weeks when the solar eclipse seemed to be a major topic of interest for many, not just amateur astronomers like Alex. Of course, he was delighted to see the various features and articles on the television news and in the newspapers regarding the eclipse, and he studied this information with the same intensity that he has always had when learning about the solar system.

Last Sunday evening, a professor of astronomy at Valparaiso University offered a lecture to the public about solar eclipses, and we knew this was right up Alex’s alley. As the professor discussed all the dates and statistics and mechanics behind solar eclipses, some in the audience checked their phones and shifted in their seats, perhaps overwhelmed by all this data. Alex, however, sat attentively and enthusiastically for the entire hour, clearly hanging on to every word this expert offered. Many in the audience seemed most concerned with how they could view the eclipse, even asking rather questionable questions as to whether they could look through industrial strength garbage bags or Ritz crackers to observe the eclipse safely. However, Alex didn’t seem to be as concerned about viewing the eclipse; he seemed to be content just knowing that this event that he had anticipated for years was finally going to happen.

One of the points that resonated most with me during the lecture was that the profound size differences between the sun and moon as well as the vast distances between them makes the lining up between these two celestial objects to create a total solar eclipse miraculous. While the media has been describing this eclipse as “a wonder of nature” or “a wonder of science,” this professor speaking at a Christian university proclaimed the eclipse as a “wonder of God.” Indeed, I appreciated that he gave proper credit to the creator of the universe.

On Monday, the day of the eclipse that many had anticipated, Alex and I watched the hoopla on television, more interested in seeing the video of the actual eclipse than watching people’s reactions to this rare event. Without eclipse glasses because I didn’t trust their complete safety and most places were sold out of them anyway, we simply watched the darkness creep in and creep out as the moon passed in front of the sun. Standing on our back deck with our heads down, making sure we would not be looking at the sun, we noticed how distinct our shadows were at that moment. Using old-fashioned technology, I showed Alex the progress of the eclipse through a pinhole viewer I’d made from two pieces cut from poster board. I didn’t want him to miss out on this event he’d patiently awaited.

While Alex appeared pleased to observe the eclipse on television and on the poster board on our deck, he wasn’t really as excited as many people seemed to be, which surprised me because he finds astronomy more fascinating than most do. While many people described being awed and amazed, Alex just seemed content to be an observer. Perhaps Alex’s scientific knowledge along with his strong faith in God leads him to be less surprised about what happens in nature than most people are. He knows what causes solar eclipses, when and where they will occur, but more importantly he knows who is responsible for these miracles and trusts that God’s timing is perfect.

While many people are already talking about the next solar eclipse and even making plans to travel to places of totality, Alex calmly waits for that astronomical event in the future, knowing that it will arrive as expected. His constant faith keeps him grounded, even as he considers the stars and the heavens. When I ask him what he thinks will happen in the future, he often wisely reminds me, “Wait and see.”  I’m sure that whenever people mention 2024, Alex will be telling us, “That’s a solar eclipse year.” Over the next seven years, I know that many changes will happen and that Alex will continue to make progress. Together, we will wait and see what God has planned.

“For the Lord is God, and He created the heavens and earth and put everything in place. He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty chaos. ‘I am the Lord,’ He says, and there is no other.'” Isaiah 45:18

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