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God's Faithful Witness in the Skies
  • Nature
  • Prayer
  • Theology
Zach Harris

On April 8th, Texans (as well as many others throughout Mexico, Canada, and the United States) experienced the wonder of a total solar eclipse. The glory of totality has been difficult for me to put into words, and was well worth a nighttime drive to Dallas. As the shadow of the Moon passed over us, this unique phenomenon ever-so-briefly pulled back the curtain that typically conceals the glory of Creation. 

And yet, to eyes that are so attuned, this glory—of Creation and, ultimately, of Creator—waits to be observed in the rhythms of the heavens. In Plato’s eponymous dialogue, Timaeus tells us that, “The cause and purpose of [the] supreme good [of our eyesight] is this... that we might observe the orbits of intelligence in the universe and apply them to the revolutions of our own understanding,” and thus “stabilize the straying revolutions within ourselves”  (Plato, Timaeus, 47b-c). 

Last fall, when speaking with our Lower and Middle School students before Morning Prayer in our courtyard, I seized the opportunity to orient the students’ eyes by observing together the monthly rhythm of the Moon—a most beloved celestial object for me. As I spoke to them for the first time, I introduced myself, and then gazed at the heavens and asked the students what they saw.   

“The sky!”  
“A plane!” 
“The Moon!” 

Aha! There she is! What do you know—sometimes you can see the Moon during the daytime! We associate the Moon with nighttime, but often she is visible during the day. And there is an easily discernable connection, for those who attend to her, between her phase and her risings and settings.  I encouraged the students to observe the Moon and to watch for the patterns and order of her movement (and to attend the motions of the other celestial luminaries as well). 

Two weeks passed, and Thursday Morning Prayer came again. Again, we dramatically looked towards the heavens... 

But, alas! She was gone! No moon! Where she had been two weeks prior, there was just clear blue sky. Where had she gone?! Aha! Yes, she is now under our feet! After two weeks, the Moon is in almost the exact opposite position in the sky relative to the rising sun and, yes, she is now a waxing half. This means she will now rise around midday and be high in the sky around sunset. I encouraged the students to note this pattern and let them know I would return in two weeks to continue our observation.   

Two weeks passed, and—alas, rain! Dark rainclouds filled the morning skies. What was I to say to the students who had gathered for Morning Prayer indoors? The Moon was up above the clouds somewhere, but, even if we were outside, we could not see her through the clouds. Thoughts and conviction formed in my heart and mind. I thought of St. Therese of Lisieux, who wrote of faith and trust, using the analogy of the Sun’s presence being obscured by storm clouds; even though his rays do not reach us, faith and trust is to continue to believe that he is there and one day the clouds will part and we will see and feel his bright, warm rays again. Even though our third Moon observation—the one intended to demonstrate the (near) completion of the cycle of phases and their corresponding positions relative to the Sun—was rendered impossible by the weather, I knew that the Moon was still there and that the ordered motions of the heavens continued, though we could not see them.   

This was what the Lord provided to share with our students that day. We had begun to observe the order manifest in the heavens, and reflected upon the sign that this is for us of the goodness of God and the order that He imparts to His Creation. And now, in a moment in which that order was obscured, we were invited to trust that it remained true and constant even though we could not see it. Sometimes the journey of faith is like that. Sometimes things just seem dark and obscured. The order and goodness that we once saw seems hidden—or even gone. Life is just hard, our hearts are heavy. Like the Moon that morning, God may seem distant or non-existent; and yet, He is still there, just behind the clouds. And He invites us to trust that one day, the clouds will part and we will see that He has been there watching over us the whole time. He is faithful. And His heavenly witnesses proclaim His glory.   

Even though we could not see her, the Moon was there that morning, telling us all this.   

As I thought about the Moon this fall—and shared these reflections—these thoughts were formed by the wisdom of the past as well as my own observations and ponderings; and yet, a few weeks after our rainy-day morning prayer, I was struck as I prayed a psalm I had prayed many times before. With new eyes, I saw that what I had said about the Moon over those weeks, the Psalmist had already proclaimed thousands of years before: 

Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness. 
“I will never lie to David. 
His dynasty shall last for ever. 
In my sight his throne is like the sun; 
Like the moon, it shall endure for ever, 
A faithful witness in the skies.” 
(Psalm 89: 36-38)