Oh how I wish I could go back again and visit Carbondale, Illinois.
You may have never heard of this fair city of 25,092 souls, 331 miles south of Chicago. Carbondale: home to Southern Illinois University and the “Fighting Salukis”. (I’d never heard of that dog breed either, bred in Egypt and famed for its hunting skills.) I got to know Carbondale when I performed a wedding there for a good friend, who grew up in that quaint locale. Carbondale is like most places in the world: loved by loyal locals but not so well known by outsiders.
But not anymore. In just a few weeks Carbondale will be the center of the universe.
Come next month a total solar eclipse, that most rare and breathtaking of celestial events, will happen on Monday, August 21st, at 1:21 pm, Central Standard Time and Carbondale is the best place in the world to view it. For two minutes and thirty eight seconds, as the moon passes directly in front of the sun, the day in Carbondale will grow dark. Eerie shadows and lunar shade will take hold. Stars will come out and twinkle in the sky. Temperatures will drop. Animals will grow restless and anxious.
In New England we won’t be blessed like Carbondale with a front row seat, but still in the Boston area, we’ll get a good view at 2:46 pm, when 63 percent of the sun will seem to just disappear. So get your eclipse viewing paraphernalia ready for this “Godshow”; that’s the word I use whenever Creation wows us with its awesomeness.
Yes I’ll be in awe that day of the science and natural law behind this once in a century event. But as a person of faith what I love most about a “Godshow” like an eclipse is that it reminds us humans of our true place in the universe. It brings us down to earth. It teaches us that for all our insistence that we are the center of Creation, actually we are not. Not by a long shot.
Instead we homo sapiens are just one very, very, very small part of the big miracle called existence. Long before our ancestors learned to stand upright for the first time some 200,000 years ago, the universe had already existed for some 13.8 billion years, according to the latest scientific theories. Earth is just one of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets in the observable universe. And if you embrace like I do a belief in God, a power greater than us, started it all, lit the fuse on the Big Bang, then that Divine force has existed forever. As in eternity. Infinity.
Ponder that as you watch the eclipse.
Or pause and be still as you stand under a vast black summer night sky and then find the Milky Way, billions and billions of stars and planets spilled like milk across the heavens of this third rock from the sun, the place we call home. Or watch in wonder as a violent thunderstorm rolls through, jagged bolts of lightning flash and rumbling peals of thunder crashing in on a humid August afternoon. Or take the tiny hand of an infant in yours’ and imagine the miracle of birth that brought this one tiny soul into the world.
If and when we actually pay attention, Creation will always humble us. That’s a good thing, for the conceit of our species has always been hubris. The myth that we run the show and that Creation exists solely to serve our needs. But then we are gifted with a “Godshow” like an eclipse and perhaps we remember just how fragile and beautiful and mysterious and powerful the universe finally is. And then all we can do is say, “Wow! Thank you God.”
So congratulations Carbondale. Enjoy the “Godshow”. Wish I could be there!