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Experiencing God In Totality: Reflections On How The Solar Eclipse Stirred Religious Experience. — 5 Comments

  1. I drove 2 days (from Baltimore MD to Jefferson City MO) to see totality. The day before the eclipse, I drove through some of the heaviest rain I had ever experienced, and was decidedly pessimistic about my chances of seeing anything on the 21st.

    I awoke on eclipse day to ominous clouds in every direction, but the sky overhead was miraculously clear. Checked out the Sun before the eclipse started, and there were 2 beautiful groups of sunspots on the disk. A line of at least 3 near the center, and an irregular grouping of 3-4 more near the edge furthest away from where the Moon would come in. These would come in handy during the partial phase of the eclipse, as they provided context to the Moon’s agonizingly slow progression across the disk of the Sun. It was fun to watch the various sunspots get “swallowed up” by the inexorably advancing shadow.

    The first bite out of the Sun came at 11:46 AM, and it took until 1:14 PM for the Moon to cover the entire Sun. I was right out in my hotel’s parking lot with about 50 other people. There were 2 (filtered) telescopes set up, and I had a constant line at mine to take a look. A number of people took pictures through my eyepiece with their phones, and many of them looked pretty good.

    Just as predicted, the light between the leaf shadows became thousands of little crescent suns on the sidewalk. I tried the trick of putting my fingers in a waffle pattern and it worked! At about one minute to totality, the light became really strange – like nothing I’d ever seen before. I shooed everyone away from my scope just before totality, and watched the crescent sun break up into little arcs, and then into scattered points of light (Bailey’s Beads). When I heard everyone simultaneously yell, I looked away from the scope, and there it was!!! The most awesome, utterly amazing sight I had ever seen!

    Where the sun ought to have been was this circle of the blackest black one could possibly imagine. It looked like a hole in the universe! Surrounding it were ghostly streamers of pure white light – the atmosphere of the Sun. When I was sure it was safe, I pulled out my (unfiltered) binoculars, and could see a bright red solar prominence shooting out at about 5 o’clock on the disk. I didn’t risk looking through the binoculars for more than maybe 30 seconds, and went back to naked eye viewing.

    Other things of interest: The temperature almost instantly plunged from about 90 degrees to maybe somewhere in the mid-70s. And there was a red sunset glow in the horizon in every direction. Weird! I totally forgot to feel for the wind that is often associated with a total eclipse. The sky was nowhere near as dark as I thought it would be. More like late twilight than actual night. Venus was brilliant – brighter than I had ever seen it. Both Mercury and Mars were up, but I didn’t manage to see either of them.

    In way too short a time, the Sun burst out from behind the Moon. Now I’m a big fan of orchestral music, especially live performances. A particular favorite of mine is Mahler’s Second Symphony, which I must have experienced live a good half dozen times over the years. During the performance, half of me can’t wait to get to the Earth-shattering climax at the end. But the other half wants it to never come, because then the symphony is over.

    I felt that way during the eclipse. I had missed the first diamond ring, and was determined to see the second… but I really didn’t want it to come, because it would mean the end of totality. But when it did, WOW! I really think it was the most beautiful and spectacular part of the entire eclipse… and it only lasted an instant.

    But sadly, it meant that the only thing left was the (rather boring) moving of the Moon away from the face of the Sun.

    More people came back to my scope, most of them to take pictures of the event. But after about 15 more minutes, I packed up my equipment and went back into the hotel. 2 plus hours of standing in the sunlight in almost 90 degrees had left me soaking wet and overheated. I desperately needed a shower.

    The very next day, the eclipse took on added significance for me. I hadn’t gone very far on my way home when I collided at 60 mph with an 18-wheeler big rig. My car was destroyed, but thanks to my swerving to the hard left in the last millisecond before impact, we did not crash into each other head on (which surely would have killed me), but instead side to side. In my case, the (unoccupied) passenger side of the car was shredded, but I managed to walk away totally uninjured! I was still nearly a thousand miles from home, and now with no car. It took me 3 days to finally get back to Maryland.

    Perhaps those ancients were right after all, about eclipses being evil omens!

    But you know what? In 2024, I’ll be on the road again to see the next one. (This time, up to Vermont.)

  2. Re “…the eclipse was a moment when the vast majority of people gazed in wonder at something that is a true rarity in the universe…”

    The eclipse “brought the country together”. The idea that everyone is so divided is always being talked up in the media, but at the eclipse all sorts of people gathered together, talked, watched, were amazed — and then (in Kentucky, at least) they all crammed together onto highways and drove in mile upon mile upon mile upon mile of bumper-to-bumper, start-and-stop traffic, and no one complained. I have met many people who spent 6 to 9 hours driving from the path of totality back to Louisville (a trip that would be 2.5-3 hours normally), yet no one complains or gripes or relays story of people acting like idiots. In fact, getting stuck in traffic seems to be a sort of “Badge of Honor”. The eclipse brought people together.

    • You’re absolutely right Chris! My friend Anne shared that, driving through Colorado, she was stunned how the bumper to bumper traffic was patient, polite, and showed true charity. A couple cars were being more aggressive and her first thought was, “They obviously didn’t see the eclipse!” There was something unifying I’m trying to give voice to. Thank you for clarifying that voice!

  3. There was a party atmosphere amongst perfect strangers where I observed the eclipse. We were all staying at a hotel on the outskirts of Jefferson City, Missouri, and simply set up on the grass at the edge of the parking lot just before first contact. One couple from New Orleans realized we’d be there until the mid afternoon, so they took it upon themselves to speed off and return with lunch for the lot of us. Someone from the hotel brought out bottled water for everyone.

    I had my (properly filtered) 60mm refractor set up, and there was an unending line of people wanting to get a better look at the encroaching shadow prior to totality than was possible with just eclipse glasses, with many taking pictures of the Sun using their smartphones. I didn’t lose any opportunity to look for myself however, since my scope was not tracking. So I had to return to the eyepiece to re-center the sun every minute or so. Didn’t miss a thing!

    Across the street from the hotel was some sort of office building. Obviously, whoever was in charge over there decided no one was going to want to stay indoors that day, so they had made the best of things. There was a big tent set up out front and many picnic tables, a row of ice chests, barbecues, and a smoker for making BBQ pork. They had music playing with songs like “I’m being followed by a Moon Shadow”, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, and “Bad Moon Rising”.

    It was a beautiful holiday from all the troubles and divisive issues besetting our country.

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