Collective Awe, and the Eclipse

Solar Eclipse
Photo by Stormie Billings

There are moments of transcendent awe which inspire us and instruct us on the mysteries of being human. After such a moment we often hope to turn and share the experience with another. If, by chance, there is a welcomed friend nearby, our words tend to fail us. We are often unable to explain the moment in a way that recreates the feeling. Most of the time, these moments pass before we can even articulate to ourselves the significance of what just occurred. These moments must be experienced because, in most cases, it is too difficult for us to communicate.

This is why the Great American Eclipse of 2017 was so special. People from across the nation looked up into the heavens and witnessed the awe-inspiring event as one. The feelings that welled up in one person, welled up in another. There was a collective awe that spread across the continent as the moon blocked out the image of the sun and we looked skyward, eyes wide and mouths open. We were wonderstruck.

I missed the eclipse, but I could feel the wake of the sublime as those who witnessed the event struggled to find the words:

“I feel different. I can’t describe how. But I do feel different.” (The Washington Post)

“I’ve seen people get on their knees and pray . . . I’ve seen scientists cry. All of a sudden, you realize, ‘Man, I’m part of this and I have instincts that I never, ever feel. I’m part of nature.’” (The Guardian)

“Some people cry. Some people scream.” (The New York Times)

What these voices are trying to find words for is the transcendent. This feeling of peace and uncertainty, this feeling of smallness and greatness all at once. It is a feeling that brings life back into our lungs and perspective into our minds. All at once, the moment is clear and simple, then immediately complex and out of reach. In the case of a solar eclipse, science can explain the math and the astronomy that creates the event, but even then our minds struggle to fathom the idea that the sun, our sun, has been blocked from view–blocked by a moon that is just the right size and just the right distance to perfectly cover the bright, glowing star we call our own.

Perhaps, this eclipse created a few eclipse chasers out there, but the feeling the eclipse invokes is not something that cannot be found elsewhere. Nature provides.

Not only does nature provide for our physical bodies (food, water, shelter, companionship, etc.), Nature also provides enrichment for our souls. If only we take the time to look, we may find “eclipse” moments in other aspects of the natural world. The magnitude of these moments may not be as grand as a solar eclipse, or as easily shared, but they exist and persist nonetheless.

Look for them in the quiet mornings or in certain sunsets. These moments exist in the colors that spread across the sky and in the vista of a stormfront moving across the plains. They exist in those instances when you see lightning in the dead of night, or the beating wings of a hummingbird, or in the loneliness of a forest, or the expanses your eyes set sight on while on the edge of a mountain.

Nature is a provider of all our physical needs, but if we take the time to look and listen and observe, the natural world will provide nourishment for our souls too.