“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4, NRSV)
Ann and I took a road trip this past Monday to Gallatin, Tennessee to experience the solar eclipse. We chose Gallatin because there, the totality of the eclipse would last the longest. The fact that there would be live music in the park was a bonus. We had two old shoe boxes transformed into eclipse projectors as well as the eclipse glasses provided by the organizers of the event. There were thousands of people in the park along with us, and it was obvious they were from all over the world. There was a scientist on hand to offer some commentary about what we could expect. For a few minutes before, during, and after the eclipse, there was no music, no commentary, and no distractions except the main event that unfolded before our bespectacled eyes.
I wish I had words to describe the overwhelming sense of God’s presence I felt in those moments of silence. As it got closer to totality, Baily’s Beads (beads of light on the surface of the sun created by the rugged terrain of the moon’s surface) form at the surface of the sun. Then, as the final bead glistened like a diamond sending prism-like light to surround us with an ethereal glow, I was spiritually moved like only a few times before in my life. Then in a last glittering moment, the moon moved into the position that created totality, and for almost three minutes we were able to observe the energetic beauty of the sun’s corona creating a combination of both darkness around us and a glowing sunset in 360 degrees on every horizon. It was worth the trip!
Imagine my surprise on Tuesday when talking to people who stayed in Birmingham who described their whole eclipse experience as “underwhelming.” Wait a minute-- underwhelming?!!! As they explained what happened here, I began to understand their perspective. Oh, how I wish I could have taken everyone with me to experience what I experienced.
I have to admit there are times in worship when I sense God moving in similarly powerful ways. The music transports me into God’s presence, or a prayer is prayed that ushers me to the feet of God, or a Bible story puts me in the crowd where Jesus was teaching, and I assume that everybody else had the same encounter. After worship, somebody may share their experience with me, describing how they were more distracted from God’s presence than drawn to him. I'm surprised! But there are also times when I feel disconnected and distracted in worship, and someone tells me that the same worship service was an incredibly inspiring time. In my own experience, the difference is almost always my perspective. If it was inspiring for me, it’s because I came expecting God to show up. If it isn’t inspiring for me, it’s because I allowed myself to be distracted by other things. It’s important that we position ourselves to experience the most from worship—by intentionally seeking God in everything that happens. Through the words of the music, the harmonies of the voices, the heart felt prayers, the biblical story, and the sacraments, we can see God’s hand at work in worship. Let’s join in worship this week and expect God to do something extraordinary!
Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church