The Cathedral of St. Philip - Atlanta, GA

Look At The Start! Look, Look Up At The Skies!

I have this Saturday, March 3, 2007, marked clearly in my appointment book. I even have the exact time, 6:32 pm, marked. At that moment (Eastern Standard Time), calculated by physicists and astronomers for some time now, the March full moon will rise over our eastern horizon in Atlanta, Georgia (the rising will differ in other geographical areas).

But this month's full moon will appear strikingly different. On Saturday evening, the full moon that rises will be in the process of a total eclipse. Of course, we have a full moon every month, at that time when the moon is directly opposite the sun, and the earth is directly between the two. But because the orbit of the moon is about 5 degrees off that of the earth, we do not always have an actual eclipse of the moon; the moon does not always pass directly through the earth's primary shadow.

Pray that the weather in your area is clear, and make an appointment to step outside and watch. Even in full eclipse, the moon will not fully disappear. It will turn a beautiful red, since light from the sun can still bend around the earth and illumine the moon. You will be seeing an event that has fascinated human beings since our creation.

We have not always understood exactly what an eclipse is. In our biblical literature, we may have hints of eclipses. Job 29.9 declares that "He covers the face of the full moon, and spreads over it his cloud." Joel 2.31 says that, "The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes." That bizarre last book of the Christian Bible, the Book of Revelation, sees that, "When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood (6.12)." Sometimes, the portents of skies have mystified our rational senses.

Now in our present time, we can actually predict the movement of the stars and the moon. How did that come to be? I believe it came to be because of good faith. People of good faith led the way. Until only a short time ago, the fields of scientific inquiry were clearly and intentionally united with the fields of religious faith.

People who were fascinated with God and God's creation were the ones who led the way of astronomical discovery. Nicholas Copernicus, who put forward the first mathematically based system of planets going around the sun, had first become a Canon at Frauenberg Cathedral in 1497. Johannes Kepler, said to be the first true astrophysicist, originally intended to be a Lutheran minister. He wrote in 1595, "for a long time I wanted to become a theologian,now, however, behold how through my efforts God is being celebrated in astronomy."

Obviously, and unfortunately, some in the established church were threatened by these scientists. They were nevertheless people of good faith, and of true faith, who were so faithful that they eagerly sought the truth in whatever form it came to them. It takes good faith to pursue that truth. It was their good faith that now permits us to step outside and enjoy astronomical sights with awe.

Today, our awe may not be like that of our ancestors, afraid and terrified. But our awe can be that of true faith, fascinated by the beauty and astounding order that God has placed in the skies. "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? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor (Psalm 8.3-5)."

I leave you with one of the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889):

The Starlight Night

LOOK at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves'-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!"”
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.
Buy then! bid then!"”What?"”Prayer, patience, aims, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!
Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.

Sam Candler
1 March 2007

Sam Candler is Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, Georgia. Contact him at