The night before the total eclipse, I had decided not to go. Distance – it would require a 4-hour drive. Inconvenience – I couldn’t leave, say, the night before, because I had to drop the kids off at school. Exhaustion – I would also need to be home the next day for the reason just described, which meant at least 8 hours of driving in one day.
And besides, living in Birmingham, I would see a partial eclipse, much more than that actually, 93% of the sun would be covered. Good enough, right?
I happened upon an article about eclipse chasers. These folks travel the world, watching total eclipses, shedding hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.
One of them was asked about the difference between a partial eclipse and totality.
“It’s the difference between having 5 out of 6 winning lottery numbers and having 6 out of 6.”
Sold (the pun is intended).
The day of the eclipse, I left early, stopped by a local store to buy two pairs of eclipse glasses and struck out in the general direction of Nashville.
More than 4 hours later, Micah (my youngest son had to travel with me, which was awesome) and I settled in a town outside of the city.
It was the perfect spot. Clouds were scattered around us. But in the grass outside the Chick-fil-a where we ate lunch, not a cloud threatened our view.
The whole thing unfolded in a hurry. The first noticeable change was the temperature. It dropped 5 degrees, at least. Then, the sky grew dim.
At this point, I threw on my eclipse glasses to notice only a sliver of the sun remaining. Honestly, I was disappointed. Temp drops and slightly darker skies are cool and all. But, nothing worth driving 4 hours to see, and certainly nothing like those eclipse chasers described. Weirdos.
Then, it happened.
The moon covered the sun completely, leaving only a bright ring hugging the moon’s edges.
Something I can’t describe flooded my body, a feeling I’ve experienced only a few times in my life. I wanted to cry – and would have – but I pushed them back.
The sun’s corona wasn’t yellow or orange or any of the typical shades we use to describe the ball that illuminates our days. It was a virgin white, a color my eyes had never seen.
The sky became dark. Street lights were on. You could see stars and Venus. But it wasn’t like night or twilight. This darkness was different. It was other.
In a moment, I paradoxically felt very small and very large. More than that, though, I felt very connected.
To everything. My surroundings. The cosmos. My Creator.
“That sounds mystical, Frank.”
It was. None of it made sense. But it made total sense.
For a moment, I felt whole. In the Old Testament, the word for peace is shalom. Shalom refers to wholeness or completeness. In that moment, I caught a glimpse of shalom, not fully, but I was able to touch the edge of its cloak.
Every part of me was fully present. Emotionally. Physically. Mentally. Spiritually. The feeling was surreal.
Then, as quickly as it began, the eclipse was over. The sky returned to a bright blue. The temperature returned to “stupid hot.”
I tried to process what I just witnessed. But about that time, Micah tapped me on the shoulder.
“Daddy, I need to go potty.”
Reality had returned.
On the ride home, I started thinking about wonder, faith and experiencing God and found a few parallels to what I witnessed on the berm outside Chick-fil-a.
Here are 6 important truths the total eclipse showed me about experiencing God.
1. Awe is the prerequisite for experiencing God.
To stand in awe of anything, especially God, requires humility. If you’re not willing to be wrong, to be amazed, you won’t experience God. Logic and correct thinking just won’t get you there.
Most of us, unfortunately, don’t default to humility. So, it takes some life circumstance (usually suffering or humiliation) to awaken awe and wonder.
In these moments, we become aware of God because our own talents and perspectives break down.
Watching the eclipse awakened my heart and mind. I was humbled, speechless. I was in awe.
2. There’s no such thing as a second-hand experience of God.
Language makes us uniquely human. Words carry immense power, to unite or divide, to build up or tear down. Language, however, is inadequate to describe something like an eclipse. I could summon the world’s greatest wordsmiths, demand they conjure up their best description and it would fall wildly short.
To know what it’s like to witness a total eclipse, you must stand under one yourself. There’s no other way.
The same is true for God. Knowledge, doctrines and eloquent statements about God will never substitute for an actual experience of him. Neither will listening to someone else’s encounter with him.
Everyone must experience God for himself. Until then, faith is merely head knowledge, which is not faith at all.
3. God can only be experienced in the present.
For two-and-a-half minutes, time took a nap. Staring at the sky, I forgot what I needed to do later. I stopped worrying about past mistakes or future endeavors. All that mattered was that moment.
I’m convinced that our willingness to live in the present moment, our desire to turn our heart and mind completely to the now, determines the depth to which we know God.
This is why Jesus implored us to stop worrying about tomorrow. It’s unhealthy, yes. It births anxiety, yes. But more than that, it robs you of knowing God.
Are you stuck in traffic? Are you celebrating a major accomplishment? Are you grieving the loss of something or someone? Are you bored with another monotonous day at the office? Give to the present moment whatever it asks, and in doing so, you will see God.
4. A distracted mind is the greatest barrier to intimacy with God.
Watching the eclipse, I became hyper-focused. This is nothing short of a miracle for someone who’s deficient in attention.
Anyway, I’m sure cars passed on the highway beside me. But I didn’t see them. People were all around me, no doubt giving commentaries and such. But I heard nada. In this moment, nothing could distract me.
A distracted mind is the greatest barrier to faith. Technology, social media and jam-packed schedules make distractedness the great temptation of our generation. At no point in history has it been easier to be busy doing nothing.
If we can’t see the presence of God in our time, if we fail to discover and live out God’s calling for our lives, if we settle for a faith that’s superficial and uninspiring to those who don’t know Jesus, distractedness will likely be the reason.
Let’s keep it real. We’re over-committed. I know I am.
We’re juggling too many balls. Our minds rarely shut off. We don’t what simple, singular focus looks like.
We ask questions like “Is God going to show up? Is God really working here?” when we should be asking “What is God doing here?”
God is never inactive. But we haven’t the space for reflection and contemplation, stillness and prayer.
Create space for God on your calendar and in your heart. Don’t doubt the Father’s presence in any situation. He’s always there. Be still. And you will see it.
5. The next generation is dependent on us to awaken awe and wonder in them.
Had I not heard first-hand from people who experienced a total eclipse, I would have watched it from my crib and been supremely disappointed. The eclipse chasers awakened my curiosity.
While a second-hand experience of God, as I said above, isn’t possible, inspiring others to experience him is absolutely possible. More than that, it’s vital.
We can’t carry the next generation’s cross. But we can show them what a cross-shaped life looks like. We can’t make them fall in love with Jesus. But we can carry them to the foot of the cross.
One of the primary responsibilities of the church is to inspire the next generation, to awaken wonder and awe in them.
Our kids need to hear our testimonies of God’s faithfulness. Those we lead need to hear about our experiences of God’s love and grace, how he was with us through cancer, sustained us through loss, loved us through sin.
We can’t hand them our faith. But we can impregnate wonder in their hearts and minds with our words and actions.
6. You can’t experience God and love the status quo.
Seeing a total eclipse ranks high on my life experiences, along with saying “I do,” birthing a child (well, not me, but…), spending two weeks in Australia, playing dodgeball in Vegas (long story) and a few others.
Viewing the eclipse came with sacrifices. I had to drive 4 hours, then almost immediately afterward, drive home. It was exhausting, especially for someone who’s operating on a less than average tank of energy. Missing a day of writing meant longer hours the rest of the week.
Staying home would have been far easier. But it wouldn’t have given me the awe-inspiring experience of watching a total eclipse.
When it comes to experiencing God, status quo is not your friend. Knowing God – as in intimacy and deep, transformative connection – isn’t possible inside the box of comfort.
Have you ever made a decision that required faith, that demanded God do something?
Have you ever felt the Spirit leading you to make such a decision? If not, why? Could comfort and status quo be calling the shots?
I’m not saying you need a total eclipse kind of moment to truly see God. You can see him right there in your community. More often than not, God reveals himself this way, in your neighborhood, not on the mountaintop. But the principle remains: you must leave your comfort zone. You must take risks. You must have faith, meaning you must trust a God you can’t see, a God who asked Abraham to leave his family and his people, a God who asked Noah to build an ark, Moses to command Pharaoh to release the Israelites, and the list goes on.
You have faith, in other words, in a God whose standard operating procedure is to call people away from comfort and into unknown.
Before we put this dog to bed, I would love to hear from you.
What does it take for us to experience God, to deepen our faith in our Creator? Leave a comment below.
Grace and peace, friends.