May 14, 2012

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I made my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You.  Psalm 139:7-12

If you live in the western United States, you’ve got quite a treat in store for you on May 20. That’s when the first solar eclipse in this country in nearly two decades will take place.

The eclipse begins over the Pacific Ocean and, from south of the Aleutian Islands, travels at 1,000 mph to California and then on to western Texas before sunset. And some of the best places to see this annular eclipse—one in which all but the outermost rim of the sun is blocked by the moon—are in western national parks. Weather permitting, 154 national parks will provide telescopes for viewing the eclipse, from partial to full annularity (annularity refers to the “bull’s eye” ring of sunlight that remains; more than 95% will be covered in full annularity).

Rangers and astronomers will hold special programs throughout the day on the 20th. The Grand Canyon will have NASA scientists on hand to explain the phenomena, with a “star party” during the evening on the South Rim. For detailed information about events at all the parks, go here (if you want oodles of information about eclipses in general, check out NASA’s eclipse web site).

Of course, any viewing must be done safely, using special solar glasses or other eye protection, because the sun won’t be fully blocked out and it’s very dangerous to look directly at it with the naked eye or even through a camera viewfinder. Solar viewing cards will be sold for $1 at all park bookstores (while supplies last).

Note to my brothers (one of whom, coincidentally, has a birthday on May 20): I’m sure you remember how freaked out you made me when we moved to another house during a partial solar eclipse when we were kids. You had me scared to death that I would go blind if I so much as looked anywhere but at the ground. I hope you’re happy that you scarred me for life…

I’m not the only one who’s ever been terrified by a solar eclipse. Before people could explain it scientifically, many thought it was a bad omen, perhaps a sign the world was coming to an end. And can you blame them? It is pretty scary when the sun disappears like that, without warning.

Darkness, especially sudden or unexpected darkness, is frightening. Fortunately, we have a God to whom darkness is as light, who holds our hand through dark days and fearful times when we don’t know what’s happening.

“For You are my lamp, O Lord,” David affirmed in 2 Samuel 22:29. “You illumine my darkness.”


  1. Amy Schlaf says:

    Do you remember our driving from Sarasota to Washington, DC in 1970 during a solar eclipse? It was so neat driving into darkness and the birds setteling into the trees and chirping. MOM

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