Up There

The sun is 400 times larger than the moon. Yet, in a solar eclipse, the moon blocks the light of the sun (like hiding the moon with your thumb). Furthermore, that eclipse only darkens a 70-mile-wide strip of earth (which, on August 21, was only across America). And just for a couple minutes.

So, why was it so important for me to travel 120 miles roundtrip for those two minutes?

Probably boredom. Not marital or mental, but weariness with the age. Let’s face it; we have long passed the point when anyone on the big stages can encourage, galvanize, inspire, or lift us. The best and the brightest are sometimes not very good and not very smart. They just talk a lot.

I’m not angered by the noise, just tired of it. This age is so mildewed, dull, dusty, claustrophobic. We seem exhausted; intellectually, culturally, and spiritually.

Love in the Afternoon

That’s why, in the early afternoon of August 21, Joanne and I (and our daughter Amy and her family) joined a diverse collection of 100 or more citizens in Woodbury, Tennessee’s Brown Spurlock Park. Children played, families ate together, and strangers engaged others in open and friendly conversations. Some fiddled around with colanders or boxes, trying to project the image onto white paper. Amateur photographers prepared for the shot that would make the cover of National Geographic. But, as totality approached, the chatter slowly hushed.

Everyone looked up.

Then the atmosphere darkened, streetlights began to glow, birds stopped singing, and the temperature dropped. In that muffled moment, every face turned heavenward. I saw grins, and I saw wet faces. No one spoke. We were all gripped by a majestic display in the heavens.

That moment was as pure as any I can remember.

As we drove home, I wondered; what if…that same group of people had gathered in that same spot for any other reason – perhaps a concert, protest rally, political campaign, worship service, or company picnic? Would any of those gatherings have produced such speechless-and-spellbound concentration? Could any other event evoke such a sense of love and natural community among strangers?


Only a convergence around something so gripping, so out of this world, so “up there,” would command such awe.

It seemed to me that the celestial phenomenon pulled all of us to attention. In that hallowed state, we all watched as the sun just went out, died, in the middle of the day.

And then the brilliance of sunlight, a diamond solitaire, peeked around the edge of the moon, a blinding, burning flash of pure light. And it just kept expanding and blazing into our space.


A couple days later, as I continued processing the eclipse, I thought about the movie Cast Away. That story of an American businessman, played by Tom Hanks, stranded on a small island in the middle of the Pacific, has long struck me as one of the most dishonest movies I’ve ever seen. Hanks’ character found “salvation” totally within himself. He never, not once, not in four years, prayed, or even looked up. In the midst of infinite sea and sky, he found connection with…a volleyball? Please.

I don’t care if he was a raging atheist who poisoned puppies; a human could not spend four years alone, worried about sanity and survival, without ever searching the night sky and groaning, “Oh, God, help.”

But then I thought, maybe the movie was a heart’s cry, an artistic wail of lament over feeling adrift, “cast away,” from the Presence. Could that be a communal entreaty? Are we seeking release from our “total eclipse of the heart?”

If so, maybe the eclipse was – like a rainbow – a sign of an enduring truth: Look up here. Turn away from the screens, the noise, the glitter, the conflict. As you walk through the earth, keep looking through, up, around, and beyond the visible. No need to react to the tired or silly voices. Reject cynicism. Just keep walking, looking, and listening; live joyfully, expectantly, and straight ahead within that state the prophet Isaiah so beautifully described:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”[1]

[1] Isaiah 60:1, taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™


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Written by on Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Filed Under: Contemplation,Creation,Culture,Nature,The universe


11 Responses to “Up There”

  1. Thank you for taking time to reflect on a once-in-a-lifetime (literally) event that occurred in American history. Although we didn’t have to travel as far as you, we experienced the same thing. Camaraderie among strangers. Line dancing for the young and old — and even strict Pentecostals who had never before danced in public; picture taking for each other; Grace-giving to others who invaded our space. Eating a moon pie and drinking an RC, staples of the South, by vegetarians who disdain such poisons for the body. And, when the moment came, a hush upon the entire crowd. All looking up through their special glasses to see the wonders of the heavens give us a light show like one we had never seen. And, when it was over, the voices of excitement, of thrill, of ecstasy. No one was disappointed with the light show. Even small children seemed to sense the significance of the event. Even the elderly who have seen it all in their long lifetimes. Even me.

    So, what will it be like when Christ Himself splits the eastern skies? The hush will be deafening.

    • Steve Carter says:

      Thank you, Ed, for sharing your reflections from a rare heavenly display. I’m reminded of the following verses:

      The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his workmanship. (Ps 19:1) For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse. (Rom 1:20)

      Though designed to live out our lives with the innate understanding we are the created thing, not the Creator, we have all been trained in the university of worldly life to live from self and, as castaways, determine how we will self-navigate through life. But we all deeply yearn to be freed of self and transcend the bondage of vainly trying to live as if we can “self actualize.” We so desire to feel the joy of the realization we are not without our Creator. Rather, our source of all life, love, meaning, and purpose is truly THERE. The eclipse declares the presence of glory and as we gather together our sense of human “beingness” in relationship to such divine workmanship gives us a collective and personal exultation. Awe in our hearts, quiet joy in our souls is the natural response.

    • Ed Chinn says:

      Thanks, Beverly. That’s a very nice view of your eclipse experience. I’m surprised you had such a celestial show, there where you live. Great.

  2. Carol Steele says:

    Hi Ed. Thanks for initiating this piece. I didn’t have the special glasses to look through so I did the pinhole in a box idea. It worked perfectly, but my image was only 1/4″ tall…so kind of anticlimactic in the physical sense. BUT Casey’s picture is awesome. And our God is sooooo awesome to have created the universe in the beginning and known exactly when and where this eclipse would happen. I’m so glad HE is in charge and I’m so glad I know “Him” and He knows me.

  3. Jeff Collene says:

    Thanks, Ed,
    Barbara and I were in our front yard working at the time of the eclipse when a large storm cloud filled the sky. We did not notice the time until the neighborhood turned dark as early evening.

    Our secular culture looks to these amazing sights and bemoans the insignificance of man. But the heavens do not declare the insignificance of man, the heavens declare the glory of God!

  4. Lucy Sebastian says:

    Dear Ed
    I love your insights on this awe inspiring event.
    Psalm 46:10 comes to my heart:
    ” Be still, and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
    Certainly that ocurred!

  5. john eames says:

    Morning Ed,

    There were massive clouds scattered over the sky on the 21st. Directly over our home in Green Hills, the sky was clear and cloudless. We watched in awe with friends as the moon move from northwest to southeast across the sun. As dark approached and the birds gathered on our ridge line and the street light blinked on we just became still. I took my glasses off during totality and words simply could not describe the sight of the sun’s massive display of fire & brilliance around the moon. When it was done, and several times since I continued to reflect on what we witnessed up close and personal (sort of anyway) – a tiny display of the creation that God set in motion billions of years ago.

    Thanks for your insights. For just a few minutes, this display of God’s power in the universe eclipsed the cynicism and discord that pervades our culture today. His involvement in our lives at times seems too restrained but he does reign. He still controls the mechanics of the universe and the affairs of life and culture. He will come again in his time.

    Thanks again.

  6. Chris Hoffman says:

    Linda and I had stopped for lunch in Waterloo, Iowa on our way home after visiting our son and family in Minneapolis. We had our glasses and knew we would not see the total eclipse as you witnessed. The sky was overcast but not too thick with the cloud cover. We couldn’t see the sun with our eyes through the overcast. However, when we put our glasses on we could see the outline of the sun and the outline of the moon just beginning to come over the sun. It was amazing to see the power of the sun that we were able to see through the overcast even though it was an outline.

    The overcast in Waterloo was the visible. The sun in Waterloo was the invisible but with the special glasses able to be seen. Like you encourage us let’s pierce through the visible to find the invisible.

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