I feel awe and wonder when I watch the sun come up in the morning and also when it goes down in the evening. Its beauty and grandeur can be breathtaking. It gives me even greater awe and wonder to realize that it is actually we on the earth who are moving, turning toward or away from our view of the sun. Science has taught us that. The earth spins on its axis once every twenty four hours, and this spinning creates our day and night. I may know all this intellectually, but I must use my imagination to experience it: see if you can, too. You can try this anytime, but it is most vivid at a sunrise or sunset.
Face the east just before sunrise.
Imagine yourself riding on the surface of the round earth sphere,
almost like riding in a car, looking out the front window.
We are speeding forward further and further until suddenly the sun comes into view. Feel yourself moving!
Later, just before sunset, face the west.
Again imagine yourself on the surface of this huge globe.
This time, like a child looking out the rear window of a car,
see that we are speeding away from everything until the sun slips from our sight.
We’re always moving toward the east!
It would make us dizzy to be aware of this motion all the time. But for a moment, we can be dizzy with the wonder of it all. Scientific knowledge can bring us to an awareness of reality beyond what we can see with our own eyes. Spirituality is when that awareness moves from the dry realm of intellect into the visceral experience of awe and wonder. The natural world is the original holy book, the original sacred text: the earliest forms of religion were responses to the mysteries of the earth and sky. As our ability to read this book of the universe grows, our spiritual practices are trying to catch up.
Margy and I traveled to Star Island, a conference center that is an island off the coast of New Hampshire. It is a rather small island—you can see the water from almost every place on it. It turned out that the windows in our tiny room faced the east. The next morning, through my open window, of course I heard a cardinal singing before sunrise. “Come outside!” it seemed to say, once again.
Right beyond the door of our room was a porch facing east, with rocking chairs on it. I could crawl out of bed wrapped in a blanket, and sit in a rocking chair to watch the sun rise over the ocean. That day, the clouds formed variegated patterns of pink and orange, blazing up through the whole eastern sky. The cardinals jumped from bush to bush close to where I was rocking in my chair.
Watching the beauty of the sunrise during the next several days, I was again thinking about how the sun generates its own energy, how all the stars do that. We on earth are more like children, we are utterly dependent on this light-being for all our needs. All of the energy human beings generate and use all over the earth relies on the sun as its ultimate source. The whole sphere of life on earth is a child of the sun. Yet the sun is so personal too. We can feel its touch on our faces—it is as personal as the vitamin D that it creates through our skin.
The poet Hafiz said,
Poem from The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, The Great Sufi Master, translations by Daniel Ladinsky