Darkness and Light

   Eclipse fever in the United States is now over for 2024. By 3:00 on Monday afternoon, a local convenience store had its remaining eclipse glasses marked down to half price.

   Science confirms that over the next ten years, there will be a solar eclipse in seven different parts of the world. In the experience-driven culture of the twenty-first century, many people will travel great distances to other countries to see the phenomenon of a total solar eclipse.

   Texas was among several states along the path of totality. During the days and weeks of buildup to the event, local media hype was unrelenting. As April 8 neared, specific information about the time of the eclipse and regular weather updates helped prepare people in the area for a historic moment that, for some, would be a once in a lifetime experience.

   Presumably each person poised to see the eclipse possessed some understanding of what happens when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, blocking the view of the sun as it passes. Yet seeing the eclipse was different for each person. No two people saw exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. No two photos look the same. During the four minutes of totality, likely each one viewing the eclipse had some private, personal experience, whether intellectual, visceral or spiritual, whether joy, awe, wonder, or a profound sense of the vast universe set in motion by the God of all creation.

   Like many people in Dallas, I had the requisite safety glasses for viewing the eclipse but it was a workday and I had made no elaborate plans to celebrate the event. From everything that had been said both by experts and enthusiasts, I expected the sky to change and become as dark as night before the actual eclipse occurred. Shortly before the appointed time, I left my office desk and joined others in the parking lot to share the experience of totality. Perhaps because I live in an urban environment awash in ambient light, the sky was not as dark as night. As I looked through the glasses and saw the moon slowly move across the sun, my senses were attuned to the gentle spring breeze wafting through the air and the indefatigable presence of the sun backlighting the clouds. In this unexpected moment of awe and reverence I felt at one with the universe, at one with nature, and at one with God.   

   In some way, those who witnessed the eclipse on April 8 experienced this spiritual truth, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2). Or perhaps we experienced in that moment the other side of this spiritual truth—the people who walk in light have seen a great darkness.

   On a trip to New York several years ago, I landed at Newark Airport in New Jersey. From there the quickest way into the city is through the Holland Tunnel, under the Hudson River directly into lower Manhattan. I was in New York on 9/11. The trauma of that tragic day is forever etched on my mind and soul. When we drove down the gradual incline into the tunnel for the short ride below ground, under water, my heart was pounding with anxiety and fear. I took a breath and knew there was no turning back.

   In the middle of the tunnel, I saw a light flashing on top of a maintenance truck a short distance ahead. Automatically, my mind raced through several worst-case scenarios. Traffic slowed and came to a halt. Then something rather ordinary happened—the driver of the truck hopped out and quickly changed places with a colleague at the mid-way monitoring station, an exchange that took about five seconds. Apparently, it was lunchtime. As we moved forward again and gradually ascended, the welcome sight of light at the end of the tunnel reminded me yet again of God's light ever present to us in the world.

   When I reflect from time to time on those moments of travel in a place of relative darkness, I realize that, not unlike the recent eclipse, light had been there all along —over, above, and outside the tunnel. So it is when we grieve the death of one we love. We descend for a while into a dark place with no turning back. We encounter obstacles and unexpected stops along the way, until one day we emerge from the dark place of grief and understand more fully that it is the light of God’s love that guides us faithfully through the darkness of grief toward the light of new life, “…for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended” (Isaiah 60:20).

He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with him.
Daniel 2:22

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