Reflections on God’s presence during last week’s solar eclipse

It is by the grace of God that we can at times sit back with our eyes closed and bask in the warmth and the glow of Divinity.

Whatever it is we can know about “The ‘G’ word” it is mediated through that-which-is-other-than-God. But the amazing thing is that we can learn to discover that the Divine is in fact present in that which is other than God, even in what we feel to be God’s absence. God is so beyond our usual ways of conceptualizing the world, that God is not contained by a tidy division between “God” and “not-God.”

In other words, people can often say that God is like light, and not-God is like the opposite of light, darkness – but eclipses of the light can also lead to revelations of it. Let’s not be quick to take this in a simplistic and judgmental way, where “Light = Good; Dark = Bad; so shun and shame the darkness, O you who wish to show your righteousness.” Rather, light and shadow are mutually dependent pairs. Experiences we have with the shadows can be formative and fruitful, and can help clarify how we receive and reflect the light. Experiences we call dark can also be horrible and destructive, of course – but so can staring directly at the sun, or a moth flying into a flame.

“Eclipse” in Greek means abandonment. Before people understood that the natural cause of eclipses guaranteed it would be brief, some people felt it could be the sun abandoning the world, or getting swallowed up for good by some monstrous being. This too can lead to revelation.

Simone Weil, the great Jewish-Christian thinker and mystic and humanitarian (who died in Nazi occupied France), wrote: “One who does not have God in them cannot feel God’s absence.” Contemplate that for a while: “One who does not have God in them cannot feel God’s absence.” What does this mean about our feelings of God’s absence?

Do you know what that feels like, to feel God’s absence? Or to yearn for a God who feels very far away? Sometimes this is because of how we have turned away from God, or how someone else has, in a way that makes life hard for those around them. But other times feeling bereft of God’s presence just seems to happen. The wisdom of our tradition says to not turn away from a felt sense of absence, but to feel the yearning that comes from it.

Read Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg’s full sermon from April 14, 2024, here.