Unlike my husband, I had no special interest in seeing the eclipse. But he really wanted to make the short drive from our place in Beaverton to a spot where he could see the totality, and he hardly ever asks for anything special for himself. So I said I would take him. We didn’t know how bad the traffic would be, so we made plans to leave in the early hours before sunrise.
Which is why Monday, August 21 at what is usually breakfast time, I was lying on my back on a newly mown field at Maude Williams State Recreation Area, south of Dayton. As state parks go, it has nothing much to recommend it except for a fantastic view of the sky, which is what my husband wanted. I helped him set up his camera and then lay back to wait.
Around us, a couple hundred or so other people were in a festival mood – kicking around a soccer ball, playing a guitar, pulling food out of coolers. I watched a hawk circling around and around the field. After a while, put on those dorky glasses so I could see the sun overtaken by the moon, bite by bite. The air cooled and darkened, the shadows shifted and the light yellowed and dimmed.
Then, all eyes were up were up, up, up as the sun slid behind the great dark ball that was the moon. I had really just come along as the driver, to make sure Jeff’s wheelchair did not get stuck in the field, to lay out the snacks. But under that circle of darkness and light, the suddenly cold breeze bringing up goose bumps on my arms, I unexpectedly saw the face of the Creator. I tried to help Jeff change his camera lens, as we had arranged, but my hands were shaking so much I almost dropped it. My heart pounded, tears (of wonder? of fear? of joy?) ran down my face, I probably shouted.
Then, too quickly, before it hardly begun, it was over. The moon slid back, revealing one bite sized piece of the sun at a time. Around us, everyone started packing up their soccer balls and guitars and coolers. The hawk still circled. In ancient times, the eclipse was a sign of cataclysmic change. Everything looked the same, but I wondered if it really was. Something had shifted inside me, I know. A surer knowledge that God was both as close the grass tickling my legs and as vast and mysterious as planets meeting overhead.
Sometime, someone is going to ask you to go along with something they want to do, something they will assure you will be transformative. They may suggest that you go to a march, take a class, sing in public, hike a mountain trail, pray in a new way, or view a total eclipse of the sun. You may be skeptical, or indifferent or afraid. But when they ask, say yes. Who knows? Maybe you too will see God face to face, where you least expect it.
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.