The Going to the Sun road trip
the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
–Mark 13: 24b–25
Longtime U.S. Senator Alan Simpson often recalled his father speaking of Wyoming as “the land of high altitude and low multitude.” He must have had to shelve that quip on August 21 when hundreds of thousands of visitors entered his home state.
Never before and never again will the space between two yellow lines in a Casper parking lot be regarded as such coveted real estate! Fortunately, we already had an inkling of this in February, when Pastor Brenda Frelsi offered to open Grace Lutheran Church in Casper for any of her colleagues who had interest in viewing the solar eclipse. Rebecca and I couldn’t have said, “Count us in!” any faster.
It was a gift to have a lot in which to park and a space in which to roll out our mats and sleeping bags! Beyond that, it was a gift to visit, dine and worship with friends and colleagues.
The total solar eclipse left indelible impressions on its witnesses. I was especially struck by the amount of illumination given off by the sun right up to the point of “totality.” How could such a sliver of sun still light the Earth?
The quality of light was also impressive; it began to turn sepia-toned as soon as the moon moved into the sun’s path. The effect was subtle but intensified throughout the next hour. As the eclipse approached totality, the temperature dropped by 15 or more degrees.
Totality itself lasted a mere two-and-a-half minutes yet left onlookers with the memorable image of a weird, celestial black disc ringed by a slim, bright corona radiating streamers of light. The blackout was over in an instant when the sun flashed through some lunar depression, creating the signature appearance of a “diamond ring.”
As the moon slipped out of the sun’s path, crescents of light were scattered on the ground. Attentive people turned their attention earthward to snap photos of this lovely phenomenon. But most of us lost interest once totality had passed. The road home beckoned. It was a slow, bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go road home, an inglorious retreat if ever there were one.
Yet the experience of a total eclipse of the sun demands some reflection after-the-fact. It still arrests our attention despite our scientific ability to predict and explain. It disrupts the order that structures our lives, the order that’s so beautifully evoked in the opening chapter of Genesis. The sun is to rule the day, and the moon is to rule the night. Light is to be separated from darkness. These are to be for signs and seasons, days and nights.
A total eclipse of the sun throws all this off kilter as the moon appears momentarily to rule the day, and the landscape is rendered in the hue of an antique twilight. The experience of an eclipse humbles us, reminds us the world is very large and we are not in charge. That’s the first article of the Creed, and it’s very good news.
Pastor Wes Aardahl
P.S. I’m grateful to have undertaken “The Going to the Sun Road Trip” in the company of Rebecca, Vicar Katelin and my former colleague Joel. There was much lively conversation.