September 21, 2017 // Perspective
Lead with beauty: evangelization and the solar eclipse
The rain fell heavy on a Monday morning in Des Moines, Iowa. Bleary-eyed travelers noticed, and plotted alternative routes over eggs and potatoes at the Embassy Suites.
A white-haired man wearing a Saturn shirt had heard it would be clearer in Columbia, Missouri, than Kansas City, Missouri, and decided to attempt the added hour of travel for a better view of the Great American Eclipse.
“If we can’t make it there in time,” he said, “our ship is sunk.”
Preparations had begun with such precision: a map to consult, checklists and charts. Did you want 2 minutes and 34 seconds of totality in Grand Island, Nebraska, or 2 minutes and 38 seconds in St. Joseph, Missouri?
It felt like a menu, like an Amazon Prime level of control: Order and arrive.
Armchair research continued in that satisfying blend of novel and familiar: cities to consider and amenities to compare with the same pick-and-click power. Make your reservation, guarantee your fun.
Then came the packing: coolers filled to the brim, pristine eclipse goggles tucked into glove compartments, tripods and telescopes collapsed in trunks.
But after months of careful planning, the one factor we could not control — the weather — forced many Midwesterners into last-minute recalculations. Amid our anxious Googling, more than one of us uttered a prayer for a break in the clouds.
My husband and I chose Lathrop, a tiny town in northwest Missouri, as our destination, and after two hours of construction delays, inching down I-35 and two panicked stops for a selfie stick, we arrived with 20 minutes to spare and parked beside a cornfield that fell squarely in the path of totality.
The clouds obscured part of the view, revealing more of a crescent than a ring, but we still rejoiced in the sight. The sudden and complete darkening was a thrill in itself. The air cooled, and the crickets began chirping their lullaby.
Before long we were back on the road, participating in another national act of solidarity: the Great American Traffic Jam. What would have normally taken six hours nearly doubled in length: an endless row of Minnesota license plates in gridlock. A group of college-aged men in one car rolled down their windows and tossed grapes to a car of young women, hungrier for the entertainment than the fruit.
Waiting in line to use the restrooms at a Casey’s General Store, travelers swapped weary smiles. Somehow, we were meeting the traffic, like the clouds, with optimism; it was all part of the experience. It called to mind a G.K. Chesterton quote: “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
The miracle was not just the eclipse, but its impact — that millions stopped to look up. These days we tend to run low on wonder. This filled us up again.
The older I get, the more clearly I see that life can echo the mysteries of the rosary: joyful, sorrowful, glorious and luminous. Every now and then, we pack them all into a single day or even an hour. Like Mary, we are called to respond with gratitude and trust, to offer our own fiat.
In classical tradition, truth, beauty and goodness are upheld as transcendentals. The Catholic Church recognizes how closely they are intertwined, one pointing to another.
As we aim to evangelize, we do well to lead with beauty, remembering the seekers who journeyed so far Aug. 21. Our church has a beauty like no other: cathedrals, sacred art, the liturgical year and a way of sacramental living available to all.
They will travel hundreds of miles for seconds of awe.
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