In light of the recent eclipse, neonatal consultant Erik Strandness reflects on why rare cosmological events catch the attention of the world

On April 8th, North America was treated to a total eclipse of the sun. The path of totality began in Mexico, moved through the Midwest, and eventually exited out the Northeast. People drove for miles to get the best view. Adults missed work. Students took a day off school. Many cities organised viewing events. 

All the major networks featured a countdown to the eclipse allotting significant amounts of airtime to the scientific data that would be collected, but also, surprisingly, devoted a portion of their coverage to its perceived spiritual significance. As people experienced the various phases of the eclipse, the responses went from anticipatory murmurings to deep silence to corporate applause. People laughed. People cried. People of differing political, religious and ethnic persuasions put aside their differences and stood side-by-side to watch a rock pass in front of a star. 

This rare cosmological event caught the attention of the world, prompting many sane people to take a break from their lives to witness darkness in the middle of the day, a phenomenon quite easily replicated by an afternoon nap. What just happened?


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Corporate worship

I’m reminded of a similar experience I had on a Caribbean cruise. One of the stops along the way was Key West, an island off the east coast of Florida. After a busy day of touring and shopping, we walked back to the ship, but as we approached the dock, we noticed it was becoming quite crowded with tourists and vendors. As we muscled our way through the crowd, we noticed that the aural landscape was punctuated by a tropical blend of many different languages all gradually decreasing in volume until only a smattering of expectant murmurs were heard. 

It quickly became apparent that we had all gathered on the dock to see the sunset. We quietly watched together as the fiery-red sun slowly descended below the horizon, and once it completely disappeared, the crowd erupted in applause just like those who witnessed the eclipse.  

Why would we give standing ovations to planetary bodies just performing their physically mandated job? The reason is because humans are wired to offer up praise when they encounter the ingenuity, talent, or creativity of a mind. 

In that moment on the dock in Key West, and in backyards, fields and stadiums along the path of totality, we all paid homage to the mind of God. And while most people didn’t give it a second thought, we had all unwittingly engaged in an act of corporate worship. I find it reassuring that even if the crowds couldn’t connect the dots to God, they at least had the good sense to recognise Talent when they saw it. 

Whispers or white noise

The Bible helps us understand why we are so enamoured with these natural events. The first chapter of Genesis explains how God created the Universe through a series of divine speeches – And God said… The world, therefore, is composed of good words spoken in a grammatically very good way, and as image bearers equipped with divine voice recognition software, we understand what God has said and are left speechless. 

Sadly, that still small voice whispering to us in babbling brooks, twittering birds and rattling leaves is often reduced to white noise lulling us to sleep until God wakes us up by shouting at us in an eclipse. Annie Dillard captures this tension in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk: 

“Did the wind used to cry and the hills shout forth praise? Now speech has perished from among the lifeless things of the Earth, and living things say very little to very few…And yet could it be that wherever there is motion there is noise, as when a whale breaches and smacks the water, and wherever there is stillness there is a small, still voice, God’s speaking from the whirlwind, nature’s old song and dance, the show we drove from town.”


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Daily planner

The book of nature continues to be a bestseller because God continues to read from its pages. He begins our day with a welcome-to-worship sunrise and concludes with a sunset benediction. He transforms the prosaic murmuring of nature into a daily liturgy reminding us that we walk on hallowed ground. 

God created recurrent natural phenomena to synchronise our lives with his words. God reminds us to set our spiritual watches by the recurrent peeling of his natural bell. He embedded predictability into nature, not to create mindless routine but to bring him back to mind. 

“The repetition in nature may not be mere reoccurrence, it may be a theatrical encore.” (GK Chesterton)

One of the recurrent themes in the Bible is God’s call to remember, remember, remember. Thankfully, he makes it easy on us by scheduling meetings with us in his daily planner in the sun and the rain, the fall and the spring, and even in an eclipse. The problem isn’t that God doesn’t want to meet with us but rather that being invited, we fail to show up.

Dramatic pause

Isn’t it amazing that we can get together with any human being on the planet and meaningfully share a sunrise, sunset, or eclipse without saying a word, without the need for a translator, or a Rosetta Stone? It appears that we already share a common language, a lingua Dei, which God first spoke when he created the Universe. 

The reason the eclipse was such a big deal wasn’t because it was a rare physical event, but because it offered a front-row seat to a divine spoken-word-performance.  

Speeches are judged not only by their rhetorical eloquence but also by the way they incorporate pauses for dramatic effect, therefore, when God takes a breath we mustn’t confuse it with his absence, but rather cherish it as time to reflect on what he just said. Humans, however, are uncomfortable with God’s silence and want him to step up to the podium every day and deliver a riveting key-note address, but sometimes it’s just enough to listen to him breathing. 

“’Cause I am hanging on every word you say. And even if you don’t want to speak tonight. That’s alright, alright with me. Cause I want nothing more than to sit outside heaven’s door and listen to you breathing Is where I wanna be where I wanna be” (Lifehouse, Breathing)


Erik Strandness is a physician and Christian apologist who has practiced neonatal medicine for more than 20 years.