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Rector's Reflection: The Heavens Declare, March 2, 2024


The Psalm for the 3rd Week in Lent is one of my favorites: Psalm 19, which expresses the way all creation, especially the heavenly bodies join in singing out the glory of God. This psalm has inspired poets and hymnists for centuries, including Haydn, who included these lines in his Oratorio on the Creation:

 

The heavens are telling the glory of God, The wonder of His work displays the firmament. In all the lands resounds the word. Never perceived, ever understood, ever, ever, ever understood.

The heavens are telling the glory of God, The wonder of His work, The wonder of His work displays the firmament.

 

The timing of this psalm could hardly be more perfect, as a total solar eclipse will pass to the south and east of us on April 8. You can find maps showing the path in both Missouri and Illinois here: https://nationaleclipse.com/maps.html

 

During the last total eclipse in 2017, Bill and I pulled Scott out of school so that he could experience totality and went to my favorite retreat place near Lonedell, which not only was in the path of totality for over 2 minutes, but is situated on a ridge so that we could see 360° views. For more than an hour, using glasses and cameras with eclipse filters, we watched the shadow of the moon interpose itself over the sun. With the help of special apps, we were able to input our location and be told exactly when it was safe to look at the eclipse directly at the time of full coverage.

 

As totality approached, the shadows on the ground grew sharper. Although we were surrounded by all kinds of wildlife, a profound stillness and silence began as the shadow of the moon slipped completely over the face of the sun. For many seconds there was silence—and the light turned a bluish-purple the likes of which I have never seen before. Stars and planets appeared overhead. For 2 minutes and 40 seconds, it was like a curtain was drawn back from across the heavens, and the stars and planets seemed to vibrate to a lilting praise song to the Almighty.

 

I had been led to expect darkness, but there was actually a living presence of light that dazzled the eye, especially after all those minutes spent wearing eclipse glasses. The temperature dropped significantly. The wind grew still so that even the trees seemed to hold their collective breath. 

 

It’s funny. In the writings such as the books of Joel 3Isaiah 13, or Job 9, the darkness similar to solar eclipses was represented as signs of God’s wrath, invoking feelings of terror and dread. But those were not the scriptural images that came to mind.

 

Instead, I was reminded of the passages in Psalm 89 and in Deuteronomy 10:14-19 that reminds us that “heaven and all the heavens of heaven,” and the Earth and all that is in it belong to God. Not only are we are blessed to be given this beautiful, fragile speck of a planet that carries us through the vast expanse that lay before me in the middle of the day, we are also charged and trusted to care for creation, including each other, in humility and service. That obligation is squarely placed upon us as part of our faithfulness and service to God in Deuteronomy 10 affirms in covenantal language. We heard the same obligation in the covenant that God made between Godself and Noah and all creation in Genesis 9 on Lent 1.

 

Psalm 19 joins with Psalm 8 and  Psalm 102 in declaring the heavens as the awe-inspiring work of the fingers of God, plaiting together the very fabric of heaven, fashioning the celestial bodies and setting them on their courses as a master craftsman, felt with the psalmist the deep humility invoked by the wonders that spun before us overhead.

 

In 2017, all too soon, it was over, and the blue opaque curtain fell back across the sky as the sun began to emerge from behind the shadow of the moon. The birds and insects resumed their songs. The surrounding countryside seemed to shake itself from its collective-breath-holding, exhale, and resume. For another hour, the eclipse subsided overhead. And yet, the resounding echo of the music of the heavens lingered in my ear as it never had to me before, a low susurration resident in the beautiful stillness of the amethyst light that lay over us like a mantle.  Yet we are reminded, even now, that the heavens ARE telling the glory of God, and calling on us to do the same.

 

In Christ,

Mother Leslie+

 

The image above is from the 2017 Total Eclipse, about halfway toward totality.

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