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A total eclipse is near. For some, it’s evidence of higher power. For others its a warning

Gatesville, Texas, members of Coryell Community Church will congregate at the campus’ hilltop site where a trio of 70-foot crosses tower over the city of 17,000, 38 miles west of Waco.

The region lies in the center of the approaching solar eclipse’s path of totality, the last such event to affect the contiguous United States until 2044. Ancient cultures viewed the dusk-like darkness prompted by the passing of the moon between the Earth and sun, temporarily blocking the sun’s light, as a sign of the gods’ anger or even their impending departure.

Instead, Coryell’s “Eclipse of the Crosses” family gathering will feature live music, games and worship – an occasion to celebrate. Meanwhile, organizers at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo have bought a thousand eclipse glasses for a viewing event, complete with black-and-white half-moon cookies.

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As the faithful convene in scattered Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities around the country, the gatherings reflect how celestial events once seen as ominous by some religious communities continue to wield spiritual significance today.

“An eclipse is yet another opportunity to witness the handiwork of God that exists in the universe,” said Eric Moffett, Coryell’s lead pastor. “We aren’t looking for any omens in the cosmos, but we are using this as an opportunity to, for a little over four minutes, be reminded that we live in world made by God and sustained by his love and goodness.”

April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse path over North America

Eclipses have inspired fear and awe among civilizations throughout history, from the Aztecs to the ancient Hindus. They’re also associated with some major religious events, including the darkness that accompanied Jesus’ crucifixion in Christianity and, in Islam, the passing of the Prophet Muhammad’s son, Ibrahim.

As the Bible’s Gospel of Mark 15:33 reads: “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.”

Such references often emphasize the power of God over the cosmos, said James Willis, an assistant professor of practice for religion at the University of Indianapolis.

“What we today see as an astronomical event, people previously interpreted as having life-and-death significance,” Willis said.

Earlier this month, in the Choctaw Nation newspaper Biskinik, a recurring column exploring Choctaw culture noted the sun was considered to bring life and good fortune; for some communities, when solar eclipses occurred, it was as if great black squirrels in the sky were devouring the sun. In response, all were called upon to make noise in an effort to frighten them away.

While solar eclipses once inspired fear and dread among ancient peoples, they're more commonly enjoyed today with public marvel and scientific understanding.

Bradley Schaefer, a professor astronomy at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, said in most pre-modern cultures, the sun god was among the most powerful deities in the pantheon. An eclipse represented the destruction of that god – or at least a dire sign.

“Where better to put signs from the gods but in the heavens?” Schaefer said. “If you see a sign in the heavens, it’s got to be from the gods. They’re telling us something, and what was universal from culture to culture is that it was always bad.”

In Islam, eclipses offer an occasion to pray

Fourteen centuries ago, as Islam’s Muhammad and his supporters grieved his deathly ill son, the prophet watched the toddler breathe his last as the skies darkened above them – the beginning, it is believed, of a total eclipse.

As the story goes, speculation spread among Muhammad’s followers that even the sun and moon were grieving his loss. In response, he summoned them to prayer and dispelled that notion, but added that such events, as signs of God’s power, should nonetheless inspire them to pray.

Omid Safi, a professor of Islamic studies at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, said tradition holds that both solar and lunar eclipses are “divine matters unfolding in nature” while honoring the prophet’s “steadfast refusal to use the fortuitous occasion of a solar eclipse at the passing of his son as a way of bolstering his own standing.”

While Islam’s eclipse prayer is not a mandatory one, many still take time to recite it. During last fall’s annular eclipse, Muslim Americans around the U.S. gathered in places such as the Muslim Community Center–East Bay in Pleasanton, California; The Mecca Center in Willowbrook, Illinois; and at Commons Park in Fridley, Minnesota.

Nadia Abuisnaineh, who volunteers as a NASA solar system ambassador in the Minneapolis area, organized the Minnesota event hoping not only to pique her community’s scientific curiosity, but their sense of identity as Muslims.

Still, she had no idea the public gathering would come as Palestinians scrambled to evacuate northern Gaza in anticipation of a massive counteroffensive by Israeli forces, a week after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel. The timing made the gathering all the more powerful, she said.

“My community was very hurt, and for them it was a time to reflect and ask God to alleviate the pain and suffering,” Abuisnaineh said. “I never imagined that five months later, with the second eclipse coming, that we would still have to think about this and be advocating for our brothers and sisters in Palestine.”

Those who witnessed the October eclipse were overcome by the event, she recalled, in particular, two older people moved to tears.

“Whether they were tears of grief because of what was happening in Gaza or just being overwhelmed by the eclipse and strengthening their relationship with God, it’s a privilege to allow people to do that,” she said.

People pray during a rare "ring of fire" solar eclipse in Indonesia's Riau province in December 2019.

With the April 8 event coming during the most intense period of Ramadan, Abuisnaineh isn’t planning to arrange another prayer gathering. Instead, she plans to remind community members to use the time to reflect.

An avid stargazer who takes any opportunity to view the night sky, she’s not about to miss a solar eclipse.

Source link : https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2024/03/23/2024-total-solar-exclipse-religious-implications/72869724007/

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