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Monday’s Wondrous Eclipse, A Visit to the Path of Totality

Monday’s Wondrous Eclipse, A Visit to the Path of Totality
A total solar eclipse is seen in Dallas, Texas on Monday, April 8, 2024. Photo Credit: (NASA/Keegan Barber)

By Daniel R. Leach

I and my wife, Deedee had the great and fortuitous opportunity to travel from our home in Houston, Texas on Monday, April 8th several hours West to Killeen, Texas to witness the total eclipse. Although originally somewhat skeptical of the value of such journey, given not only the challenges of the expected large crowds, traffic, lack of adequate food and lodging and such, but also the rather discouraging weather forecast for that region, we were rewarded richly for the effort and one could even say that it was a life-altering experience. For this reason alone it would be worthwhile to recount, but the fact that so many others have reported a similar effect on them, compels me to explore what I believe to be the spiritual phenomenon involved.

First, it is important to set the stage. We began the day leaving our home at 5:00 am, driving Northwest in total darkness and, as we wound our way through the normally beautiful rolling central Texas farmland, the morning light gradually revealed a gloomy scene-fog, low, thick clouds and intermittent rain. Not exactly a promising prospect for viewing an eclipse. However, after some wrong turns, and a change of plans as to where to set up, we rather serendipitously found ourselves in a small city park on the northern edge of Killeen, Texas. There were surprisingly few other people there at 9:30 when we arrived and although still cloudy, there were small breaks in the low clouds, revealing partially clear skies with high, wispy cirrus clouds. So, we decided to stay put and just hope for the best.

There was another couple parked next to us who had set up a canopy and lawn chairs and who had a camera mounted on a tripod who invited us to sit with them. So, we did and the ensuing discussion colored and deepened the meaning of the unfolding experience. Bill, as he introduced himself, and his wife, Eva, had driven all the way from San Diego to be here, having done the same for the 2017 eclipse in Montana and South Dakota. They expressed to us the uniqueness and irreplaceable quality of actually experiencing a total solar eclipse in person. Bill at one point marveled at the seeming fortuitous and amazing fact that the Earth, moon, and sun are all the precise sizes and are at the precise distances from each other for this rare and wondrous event to occur. Remembering what I had learned many years ago of the work of the astronomer, Johannes Kepler, I related Kepler’s belief that God designed the solar system with this very intention so that we would lift our eyes and minds up to contemplate the beauty and order of His creation. Bill exclaimed, “Yes, Kepler! I love Kepler!” But he then looked at the ground with a wistful expression and said, “Maybe he’s right,” seeming to miss the profundity of the idea.

Not being an astronomer myself, I have always appreciated this idea to be, above all else, beautiful and, because of the way God created the universe and the human mind, therefore also True. But I did not share this sentiment as we chatted and waited for the appointed hour. As the moon began to encroach on the disc of the sun, we would catch brief glimpses of the sight through our eclipse glasses as the low clouds moved slowly over us from the South, creating small patches of relatively clear sky. Each time we could see this gradually progressing process, all of the crowd in the vicinity, including us, would cheer and exhort the clouds to just, please clear up enough for us to see it. The excitement and anticipation were palpable and built, heightened by the anxiety over the weather, for the next hour or so.

The last phase of the occulting process, where the sun was reduced to a mere sliver, was maddeningly interrupted by more frequent clouds and just as totality was about to occur, a large dark and looming rain cloud began to cover it. The whole crowd exclaimed, “Oh, no!”, but I could see that it was moving rather quickly and remembering what I had said about Kepler and the almost predestined way in which we had arrived here, I said, “I just know it’s going to clear .”I had no sooner uttered these words when the cloud passed, the entire area around us, which had been growing darker steadily for the last hour, was suddenly plunged into deep darkness, and there above our heads, surrounded by silvery, feather-like clouds, was the most glorious sight I have ever seen. The profound blackness of the moon serves to accentuate the shimmering, radiant beauty of the corona which seizes one’s whole being like a divine revelation. Mere awe is too weak a word for the emotional state which one experiences, and the fact that this is almost universally attested to, speaks to something fundamental to the human psyche and, I believe, creation itself.

As the darkness deepens and one notices the light on the horizon and the profound stillness around one, the sense of mystery and the specificity of the revelation to this one place and this one moment is inescapable. Whatever one’s belief about the universe and its origin or whatever one’s level of scientific knowledge, the realization that one is seeing this profoundly beautiful and unique phenomenon at just this one unique place and time on this small patch of the Earth’s surface, which is, yet, connected physically, visually and spiritually to this much larger process, indeed to the cosmos as a whole, is at once arresting, as it rips one out of the mundane and small world of our daily lives, but also uplifting, even exhilarating, for it confirms something great and divine in our own souls. Otherwise, how could it affect us so strongly? The fact that everyone around us was expressing the same joy, wonder and profound gratitude for this miraculous event only serves to confirm this conviction.

As marvelous as those few minutes were, I was not prepared for the finale which Bill announced in a low and reverent tone, “Now watch for the diamond ring!” I wasn’t familiar with this aspect of the eclipse, so was wholly unprepared for what we saw next. Suddenly there appeared a narrow beam of light from the right side of the moon’s silhouette which developed quickly into a diamond shaped point with four beams of brilliant light extending far out from its center and filling the still darkened heavens like the most exquisite jewel the mind could imagine. It was like the seal of the divine gift that we had just been given and the parting smile of the loving being that gave it. “It’s time to put your glasses back on now”, Bill said. But it was if his voice was coming to me from somewhere else, so lost was I in the sublimity of the moment. I was now crying and looking around, I could see others also either moved to tears of on the verge of it. Looking into the eyes of total strangers I could sense a knowing look of acknowledgment of the extraordinary nature of what we had just witnessed and a sense of brotherhood in that commonality.

We lingered a while and chatted with our new friends, then packed up and began our journey home. We were both silent for a long while, unable to express our feelings, but certain that we both felt the same thing. It took many hours to get home, as the traffic was very heavy on the roads leading out of the path of totality, but it seemed that we couldn’t have a care in the world after what we had just experienced. Our souls had been replenished and we were reminded that we are all part of that divine presence that had just visited us.