August 22, 2017

In the Pathway of Totality

            It is rather hard to write with eclipse glasses on this morning.  I prefer to prepare early! Like many others, I have anticipated this day with a sense of foreboding and wonder.  The foreboding is a lot less than the wonder, to be sure.  The foreboding in my case has to do with religious quacks that claim a natural scientific event is an act of God’s judgment or an apocalyptic event signaling the end of time.  That this portent, which happens quite regularly, by the way, has to haul this fake theological freight creates a stumbling block to coherent belief.

            Another of these celestial alignments will happen in 2024, and I suspect many of the same arguments will be in vogue.  It will be election year, so beware! God is judging a “godless nation” by blotting out the sun, and who knows but this might be the very last chance we have to repent.  Please understand, I am all for repentance—deep, daily, and determined.  God’s call always beckons us to turn around to traverse a more life-giving pathway, but I demur at the heated rhetoric of an interventionist theology that only sees God active in the cataclysmic.

            Wonder far outstrips foreboding, however.  I am thrilled by the fervor with which people have planned ahead to secure the best viewing spots.  I delight in the ways this astronomical occasion provides teachers with an expansive scientific lesson. I relish the new learning about animal and crop behavior during a solar eclipse, especially as this is a key concern for those of us who live in the plains.
I revel, also, in the capacity of humans to experience wonder.
            It was Rudolf Otto, a scholar of religion in the early 20th century, who wrote about the “idea of the holy,” contending that each one of us has an inherent response to the numinous realities of life.  By numinous he meant a divine power at work that invites us to a sense of mystery, fear and, perhaps, worship. At the heart of the religious impulse is the sense of grandeur of God’s creation, the idea that something lies behind the phenomena of earthly processes.  A pious Christian, Otto sought to defend belief from naturalistic tendencies, the argument that the whole of this world can be explained with a theistic hypothesis.

            It is very instructive for human beings to experience themselves with an appropriate understanding of their place in the scale of our universe.  This means we understand that we are latecomers, beneficiaries of a long history that preceded us. We are dependent on all the life forms that have gone before, as well as those that continue to companion humanity today. It also means that the glorious beauty that surrounds us points to a vast intelligence beyond our comprehension.  Our recognition of both our frailty and magnificent vocation as God’s image bearers kindles wonder that God is mindful of us, as Psalm 8 states.

            I hope our experience of this event illumines a spirit of contemplation as we marvel at God’s handiwork and the perdurance of an expanding universe.  I also hope that we find ever more constructive ways to hold both science and faith in our heart.

           Molly T. Marshall

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