Not long ago, I kept one of my children up until an unseemly hour to watch the Lunar Eclipse. We knew the eclipse was coming and prepared for the event - picking out a good spot in our driveway to watch and arranging the cars accordingly, setting our supplies in place beforehand, and adjusting our after dinner routine to make sure everything would proceed as planned. We had a wonderful time watching the sky together, gazing in awe at the deepening, uncanny red of the moon as darkness moved across its surface. It turned out to be a community-building event, as neighbors up and down the street came out of their houses to watch the eclipse, too, and we wandered to one another’s yards to chat, comment on the wonders of the night sky, and share each other’s looking devices. The eclipse was even more amazing and enjoyable than we had anticipated. Seeing something like a lunar eclipse is humbling and awe-inspiring, a reminder that there is so much that is beyond ourselves – even when we know the event is coming.
And then, this past Sunday, I left the house alone, tired, and perhaps a little bit sulky before dawn and before my morning coffee. I glanced up at the sky to affirm that I was insane for being awake so dreadfully early - and there it was. A massive bright orb in the sky, conspicuously larger and brighter than any of the stars, very obviously something different. Without a doubt, even with my naked eye, I knew it was a planet. But I did not know which one, for I had not expected this astonishing sight. I stood there looking at it for a long time, shivering in the cold, and filled with a sense wonder. I felt like I had been graced with a special gift. I later learned that it is Jupiter, visible in the mornings in the East for a short time during October 2015. I had no previous idea that this was happening, or something worth seeing, until I just happened to leave the house before dawn and just happened to look up in the right direction. I was simply in the right place at the right time.
The courses of the planets, moon, and stars are all predictable. People have been tracking, charting, calculating and accurately predicting when these things will happen for thousands of years. Long before any of our modern technology existed, human beings have known when there would be eclipses, bright planets nearby in the sky, and the pathways that stars and constellations would take across the night skies in all seasons. Nonetheless, these events were frequently marked with ceremonies, festivals, religious rites, and all sorts of rituals, even in societies where they were precisely calculated beforehand. There seems to be some basic acknowledgement in human beings, across so many times and cultures, that these celestial events are important and signify something transcendent, something that surpasses the ordinary. We see that even that which is predictable can be wondrous, can fill us with a sense of awe, an awareness of a cosmos filled with an amazing reality beyond ourselves, that which is Holy.
One very general way to think of a “blessing” is anything that calls to our attention God’s love and grace in our lives. The events of the skies, filling us with wonder, often feel like blessings when we witness them, even when they can be charted, calculated, and explained. There is something about them that brings us to that place of awe and awareness of the Divine, even though we understand perfectly the predictable science behind what we are witnessing. There does not have to be a contrast or opposition between what is explainable and predictable and what is awe-inspiring, wondrous, and amazing. Even things as expected and normal as the planets in their courses can be an astounding reminder of something beyond ourselves, something that permeates the cosmos and yet stirs the innermost depths of our souls. Even that which we can calculate, track and chart can be a “blessing,” a reminder of the presence of the Holy One in our lives. Aside from the stars and the planets of the cosmos, I wonder what else in our lives, our sometimes annoyingly predictable and explainable lives, day-in and day-out, could be a “blessing” if we chose to see it so – if we stopped and acknowledged that even this routine, predictable, mundane thing is in fact a sign of God’s love and grace?