Wednesday, August 16, 2017

In the Shadow of the Moon

Solar eclipse at your feet!

The coming solar eclipse on August 21 prompts me to tell a story on myself from a partial eclipse some years back, here in Atlanta. I believe I wrote about this in one of my books, but I can’t tell you which one!

I was out running toward the middle of the day when it seemed a little darker than it should be with a cloudless sky.  Then I remembered that the moon was going to be passing between the sun and earth on this day, and apparently at that time.

As I ran, I noticed on the sidewalk beneath my feet tiny crescent shapes of light that appeared to be coming through the leaves overhead, and I laughed to think I was witnessing the eclipse in miniature. I wrote it off to my overactive imagination; probably the sun always filtered through leaves like that, and I had never before noticed.

Months later, in Madison, Wisconsin, I was in the home of a young lesbian couple. At my feet played two tow-headed children, a boy and a girl, and I learned that each woman had given birth to one, with the help of the sperm of gay partners, friends of theirs living on the West coast. It was a remarkable reimagining of what family could be!

I happened to look over at one woman’s home work space, and noticed pinned above her desk several newspaper photos of crescent shapes of light like I had seen during the eclipse. Her photo appeared in one of the news articles beside this phenomenon. As it turned out, she was a meteorologist and she confirmed that what I had “imagined” was in truth, reality!

“It’s like when you put a pinhole at one end of a shoebox to see an eclipse,” she explained. “The light at the other end of the box is what you saw many times over on the sidewalk beneath your feet.”

In his book, Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore wrote that imagination is the most underutilized spiritual gift. Saint Ignatius believed that imagination is needed in the spiritual life, and those who have tried his rigorous Spiritual Exercises know the necessity of the imagination in accomplishing them.

Every human endeavor requires imagination. Whether you’re bagging your groceries or developing the theory of relativity, creating a work of art or doing a house repair, imagination opens us to new ways of accomplishing our tasks, being creative, and understanding the universe.

Albert Einstein’s imagination prompted him to suggest that light could bend, demonstrated by Arthur Eddington in documenting the “shifting” positions of two stars during a solar eclipse, an early confirmation of the theory of general relativity.

The Psalmist’s imagination prompted an expectation that God is with us, even in “the valley of the shadow.”

And poet Mary Oliver advises us to “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”

My scientific knowledge is, like all other aspects of my knowledge, probably dated. But a few years ago it was reported that astrophysical and cosmological measurements have suggested that the universe is 4% atoms, 25% dark matter, and 70% dark energy, a mysterious energy unrelated to dark matter that holds everything together.*

What that says to me is that we are only seeing with our eyes the manifestation of 4% of what’s here, the 4% of the universe that consists of atoms. We can’t see the 25% that is dark matter, or the 70% that is dark energy.

So, in this cosmic “shadow of the moon,” imagination may take us beyond our eclipsed knowledge and awareness, whether our own imagination or that of visionaries: scientists, artists, mystics, prophets, poets, lovers, and children.
Solar eclipse reflected through leaves.

*Thanks to Dennis Overbye’s reporting in The New York Times.

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