“On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.” –Amos 8:9
Oh how I wish I could go back and visit Carbondale, Illinois.
You may have never heard of Carbondale, a city of 25,092 souls, 331 miles south of Chicago. Carbondale is home to Southern Illinois University and the “Fighting Salukis.” (I’d never heard of a Saluki either: it’s a breed of dog from Egypt, famed for its hunting skills. Who knew?) I got to know Carbondale when I performed a wedding there for a good friend who grew up in that quiet locale. Carbondale is like most places in the world: loved by loyal locals but not so well known by outsiders.
Maybe not anymore.
You see, Carbondale’s big moment in the sun (or more precisely, without the sun) is coming very soon, on Monday, August 21st, at 1:21 pm, Central Standard Time. That’s when a total solar eclipse will be viewable in a narrow path across the continental United States, from the Pacific Northwest to the southeast, and Carbondale is perfectly positioned for the show. For two minutes and thirty eight seconds that day, as the moon passes directly in front of the sun, Carbondale will grow dark. Eerie shadows and lunar shade will appear. Stars will come out and twinkle in the sky. Temperatures will drop. Animals will grow restless and anxious.
Where I live in New England we won’t be blessed with a front row seat, but we’ll still get a good view at 2:46 pm Eastern Standard Time, when 63 percent of the sun will seem to just disappear. If you haven’t already, get your eclipse viewing paraphernalia ready for this “God show.” That’s the term I use whenever God’s Creation confronts us with its awesomeness. Its enormity. Its mystery. Its ability to make us declare, “Wow!”
All the cultural hoopla surrounding the eclipse made me wonder what folks in the days of pre-modern astronomy might have thought about such a breathtaking, even frightening event. Astronomers in ancient times studied the heavens in hopes of discerning the will of God, or the gods. Thus in approximately 750 B.C.E., the prophet Amos foretold a day when the sun would vanish at high noon. Daylight would fade to a mere shadow. This would be a sign of God’s judgment upon Israel. The Hebrew nation had apparently fallen far away from faithful religious practice. In chapter 8, the prophet accuses the community of corrupting God’s law to cheat and oppress the most vulnerable in their world: slaves, the hungry and thirsty, and the poor. What better way to get the people to remember God’s sovereignty over the entire universe than with a rare and awe inspiring God show like a total solar eclipse?
As a person of faith in 2017, what I love most about such a God show is that it can still reveal to us our true place in the universe and bring us right back down to earth. An eclipse teaches us that for all our insistence that we are the raison d’être, the pinnacle of Creation, actually we are not. Not by a long shot. That’s true in ancient Israel and is still true 2,700 years later.
We Homo sapiens are just one very, very, very small part of the big miracle called existence. Long before Amos, long before our ancestors learned to stand upright 200,000 years ago, the universe had already existed for some 13.8 billion years, according to the latest scientific theories. Earth is just one of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets in the observable universe. And if you believe that God started it all, lit the fuse on the Big Bang, then this Divine force existed before time. Above and beyond time. God is first cause. God is the unmoved mover. God is eternity, infinity.
Ponder that as you watch the eclipse.
Or be still as you stand under a vast black summer night sky and observe the Milky Way, billions and billions of stars and planets spilled like milk, across the heavens surrounding this third rock from the sun, our home. Or if you are not near the eclipse, just watch in wonder the next time a violent thunderstorm rolls through, jagged bolts of lightning flash, rumbling peals of thunder crash, on a humid August afternoon. Or take the tiny hand of an infant in yours and imagine the miracle of birth that brought this one tiny soul into the world.
If and when we actually pay attention, God’s Creation will always humble us. That’s a good thing, for the conceit of our species is the myth that we run the show and Creation exists solely to serve our needs. But then we are gifted with a God show like an eclipse and perhaps we remember just how fragile and beautiful and mysterious and powerful the universe finally is.
Then all we can do is say, “Amazing! Thank you God.”
So congratulations, Carbondale. For one special day, you are the place to take in a once-in-a-lifetime God show. Boy, I wish I could be there.