After the recent eclipse, I received a letter from one of our parishioners, Rob Murphy, who had briefly stopped me after Mass prior to the eclipse to ask if he should make the 3.5 hr trip to where he and his family could view the totality of the eclipse. I gave him my solar eclipse glasses and encouraged him to go experience a potential once-in-a-lifetime event. The title of this blog entry indicates came from Rob himself, indicating his profession, and I was delighted to experience his other gift of writing as well. With Rob's permission, I offer his letter to me...
Dear Fr. Bill
I had to write to you to say thanks for giving us the solar sunglasses and encouraging my wife and I to take the time to view the eclipse. With a last minute invitation from my niece to join her in Salem to view it in the path of totality, we left at 3am to arrive to join other family and friends on a hill just across the freeway from the Enchanted Forest. I really had no preconceived expectations of a total solar eclipse other than it would be an interesting phenomenon to see, but what occurred that morning affected me to the depths of my soul, so much so that I will never be able to express in words the sublime sight I was blessed to witness.
We arrived on the hill just in time to see the darkening edge of the sun after donning your cardboard glasses. There was a gentle breeze making the leaves flutter and the wind spinner on our host’s porch rotate slowly. The sky was perfectly clear with very little smoke to blur the magnificent morning as our view stretched for many miles across the Willamette Valley toward Corvallis and the Coast Range. Again and again, as the eclipse progressed, I took on and off the glasses to see both the shaded sun and the dimming surroundings of our hilltop observatory. 20%, 50%, 90%.......the sun was slowly being covered more and more by the moon. I was getting excited and knew that something special was coming. 98%, 99%.....99.9%.........And then instantly, in a literal blink of an eye, all went dark through my glasses and I tore them off, and the sky was transformed into the heavens, day into night, where just a moment before shone a blinding sun, there was a disc of beautiful light radiating around a black center that seemed to be alive with movement. Never before had I beheld such an epiphany before me! The brilliance of the corona in all its glory was casting a spectacular halo of light while the stars surrounding the sun were immediately visible in the blackened backdrop like so many choirs of angels around their Creator. I remember yelling loudly, “Oh, My God!” in no way taking the Lord’s name in vain, but truly uttering a prayer of profound praise.
I remember hearing one of my nephews scream, “Look at the shadows on the ground!” We were all standing on an asphalt driveway, and as I looked down, there were thin, distinct, rapidly moving shadows rippling and undulating across the surface from east to west, similar to waves across a pond, but the likes of which I had never seen before. I, too, yelled with wild excitement, jumping all over the ground trying to chase these dancing, ephemeral wisps with an exuberance and elation that this 52 year old has never had since childhood!
Then I heard my brother in law say, “Look at this!” He was pointing to the shadows cast by the maple tree leaves on the blacktop creating hundreds of crescent shape images of differing intensity bearing no likeness to the leaves above. I whooped and whistled in wild ecstasy like a crazed madman totally unable to control his emotions. Then my other brother in law yelled to me, “Quiet! Listen!” I had to force myself to silence and stillness……….What was that noise in the background?........Crickets!! The crickets were chirping loudly, singing their praises to God! It was complete and total sensory overload.
Then I remember looking back up to the remarkable and radiating wheel of light and noticed that the upper right portion was getting even brighter and brighter by the moment, much like a glistening diamond set in a ring. “Look at that!” I bellowed in delight, pointing to the intense beauty of the sight. And then, suddenly, again in a blink, a piercing and blinding light came rushing into my eyes, burning an image into my retinas that remained with me as my lids closed.
It was over……..some 105 seconds in total, an insignificant amount of time, but enough for me to know something very significant in my life had just happened to me, something that I am trying to assimilate and make sense of several days later. I remembered your homily the week prior where you were speaking of the eclipse and quoted the Psalmist, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God.” Certainly true, indeed, but there was even more to it for me personally. I think I caught a small glimpse of what Paul saw in his vision of our Lord on the way to Damascus where he was unable to speak after seeing the heavenly vision. Rather than being struck dumb, I was a blabbering idiot, unable to control my joy and make sense of it all. I have always known that God is our Creator and that we can know Him through his creation, but this event was truly a deeply religious experience for me because I got to witness the power, glory and brilliance of Him in such a concentration. True, all of it is explainable by science and mathematics, and some will put their faith in the Big Bang and calculus and quantum theory, but for me I know with certitude, as the wise Dr. Peter Kreeft said, “If there was a big bang, there must have been a Big Banger!”
St. Peter saw on the mountain during the Transfiguration our Lord’s appearance change and his clothes turn a dazzling white. He experienced something so profound that I think he was at a loss for coherent words when all he could utter was, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” I, like Peter, got the privilege of seeing for a moment the magnificence of the glory of God, and now I can also say with Peter, “Lord, it was good for us to be there.” It was, in no small way for me, a foretaste of Heaven. I got to see the sun transfigured on that Salem hill, and now I pray that the Son will transfigure me.
Thank you Rob for sharing your experience and faith. May God continue to inspire in us all a sense of wonder and awe at the creation in which he has place us.
Fr. William Holtzinger