The Purpose of Beauty and the Great American Eclipse

Something strange was happening – the sky darkened and took on an eerie character, almost like twilight but something different altogether. A cool breeze picked up, the temperature noticeably dropping. 10:15 in the morning and stars started to twinkly forth along with objects in our own solar system, the planet Venus clearly visible just above us. The sun, that once constant companion in the sky, never-failing and always life-giving, was losing it’s hold, disappearing behind the transient moon. For a moment, one could almost say that a diamond ring hung in the sky, beckoning for someone to come and grasp it.

Then it happened: totality was upon us.

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Total Solar Eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. Photo Credit: NASA

Twilight surrounded us on all sides and night seemed to descend right above us. The glowing ring that was the eclipse stared back as if an eye peered down from the heavens. Through my binoculars, shots of hot plasma sprouted from the surface of the sun, reaching out into space for 100,000 kilometers or more, enough to engulf our small place in space in flames if the Earth were right next to it’s normally life-giving star. White wisps of the sun’s corona danced around and seemed to envelop the moon itself, putting on display a sight that unaided eyes rarely get to see, all at once fleeting and fragile yet demonstrating the power and energy contained within the burning-hot heavenly body. The world was silent, focusing on this strange phenomena which hadn’t been seen in this part of the world for 38 years and would not return for another 28 years. Mesmerized by the sight in the sky, I was moved to prayer, thankful for God’s creation, the beautiful intricacy of His universe, and the blessed opportunity to witness this awe-inspiring event, which for many people, may be the only chance they have in their lives to see it.

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Time-lapse of total eclipse over Madras, OR. Photo Credit: NASA

No words can adequately capture the moment of totality during the 2017 Great American Eclipse. No pictures or video can do it justice if you didn’t have a chance to see it in person, although I still highly recommend finding those pictures and watching some of those videos (being wary, of course, of some social media photoshop fakes that are floating around). Viewing a total eclipse is a life-changing event, with the potential to alter one’s view of the world.

The total eclipse is a reminder, however, that no matter what beauty we behold here on Earth, it is all a foretaste of that ultimate beauty, love, and truth for which we strive to be with for eternity in Heaven. While the eclipse was wonderful, it is a reminder that just as it was fleeting, our own lives are fleeting as well, and we must remember that we should be preparing ourselves for something so wondrous, so fantastic, that nothing we see here on Earth, not even a total eclipse, can ever approach the magnificence of residing forever in it’s presence: I am of course talking about that beauty and truth which we will experience in the Beatific Vision. With all of the excitement surrounding an event such as the eclipse, we need to remind ourselves that all of it, no matter how wonderful, should be used to glorify God, who gave us His only Son, and leaves His Spirit with us always, to guide us and draw us closer to Him.

The Great American Eclipse inspired millions to learn and grow, but it’s primary purpose in this writer’s opinion? To serve as an example of the beauty of His creation and remind us that He remains with us always, whether in the celestial heavens or here on our Earthly home. May God be praised in all we do.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his love endures for ever;

who alone has wrought marvelous works,
for his love endures for ever;
whose wisdom it was made the skies,
for his love endures for ever;
who fixed the earth firmly on the seas,
for his love endures for ever.

It was he who made the great lights,
for his love endures for ever;
the sun to rule in the day,
for his love endures for ever;
the moon and the stars in the night,
for his love endures for ever.

-From Psalm 136

The next total solar eclipse to hit the United States, although on a massively different trajectory will occur on April 8, 2024. Personally, I wouldn’t mind heading to Argentina in 2019. Anyone want to go?

On the Journey: Childhood

Augustine’s Confessions I.7-12

“You are the one and only mold in which all things are cast and the perfect form which shapes all things and everything takes its place according to your law.” -Confessions I. 7

One of the most profound experiences that one can have, in my opinion, is holding a newborn child in their arms. The beauty and innocence in the eyes of an infant can reach a person to the very soul, putting him or her in touch with the God who created us all, who at one time formed us in the womb so that we might be held by our own fathers and mothers.

The parent of a toddler running around the house may not be so keen on seeing that innocence, and the parent of a teenager may outright deny it!

We are all born in this wonderful state, but then again, we are also human. We are not born perfect, and we will grow to make mistakes, fall, both proverbially and actually, and by God’s grace, we will get up again.

I remember when I was a young child, probably middle elementary school and I was out playing with some friends. I did not want to come home, only because I wanted to play longer, and ignored the calls of my mother. (And when I say calls, I mean verbally, from the front porch. Well, whistles actually. Cell phones weren’t so common then. Man, I feel old all of a sudden…)

This obviously didn’t end well.

From Wikimedia Commons - Unlimited License

From Wikimedia Commons – Unlimited License

She kept calling, and I kept ignoring, and finally it came time that I had to leave my friend’s house so he could eat dinner. I proceeded out his front door, said goodbye, and waited. And hid behind a rather large bush. And waited some more. I mean, I knew I was in for it, so why not, right? I saw my mom ride by on her bicycle, looking frantically for me. I’m not sure how long it had been; it seemed like hours, but it was probably only 15 or 20 minutes. Eventually, I knew I had to make my presence known, and so I stepped out so she could see me.

That was the first time I experienced what it was like to be grounded.

Lord knows it wouldn’t be the last, and that I have probably given my mother and father a fright or two or ten since then!

But my point is this: even at that young age, we struggle with the right thing to do, what choices we make, and this is where we find Augustine in this week’s reading. He recounts what he must have been like as an infant (whiny) and what he was like during his early school years (a brat who didn’t want to concentrate on school work):

“I was disobedient, not because  I had chosen something better than they [my parents] proposed to me, but simply from the love of games…My eyes shone more and more [with curiosity]…[and I] wanted to see the shows and sport which grown-ups enjoyed.” –Confessions I.10

The Carpenter's Shop, by Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Somehow, I don’t think our Lord ever got in trouble… Painting entitled “The Carpenter’s Shop”, by Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Augustine sought to follow his own desires, seeking what he considered the “wealth of this age” (I.9). But even at this point in life, even though he  had a lot of growing up to do, and many more mistakes to make, he still had an inclination of the presence of God, taught  to him by his mother Monica.  At one point, he even pleads with his mom, appealing to her own devotion, “Give me the baptism of Christ your son, who is my God and my master” (I.11).

I wish I was as eloquent as Augustine at that age!

There is a two fold lesson that we can learn from our own lives and from Augustine in all of this. First, we must grow up. Second, we must remain children. Scripture even supports this: in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ tells his followers, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (18.2-4). In one of the Apostle Paul’s letters, he speaks of “put[ting] away childish things” (1 Cor. 13.11).

Of course there is no contradiction here. In one sense, we must strive to return to the humility of childhood, seeing ourselves how God sees us, trying to better ourselves, get aways from the distractions of the “wealth of this world.” We must seek refuge in Him as the Father that He is, accepting the mercy of His Son, allowing the Spirit to penetrate our hearts. At the same time, this movement of child-like faith and humility will cause us to grow up, to see the world how it truly is, to see the emptiness of worldly wealth and to see how His truth and beauty permeates all things. We discover that we can either allow ourselves to be swept away by that beauty, or turn our backs on it as we would a cold wind.

The Father has cast us in His image; let’s rediscover the mold from which He made us as little children.

For reflection:

How can you become more like a child to grow closer to God?

What things do you need to put away in order to grow closer to God?

Up in two weeks: Confessions I.13-15. Normally I try to post weekly, but I am taking this short hiatus to focus on enjoying vacation and studying for finals. There will be other posts on the blog before then, I am sure, but the next one in this series will be on Dec. 9.

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.