Moving Toward East

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.

Dawn at Star IslandMargy 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.Rocking Chairs

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,

All this time
The sun never says to earth,
You owe
What happens
With a love like that.
It lights the

 Poem from The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, The Great Sufi Master, translations by Daniel Ladinsky 

Sunrise Blessings

Mona Polacca, an indigenous elder of the Hopi and Havasupai people, spoke at my church one summer. She talked about how we come into relationship with all the elements of the earth, with water, and air, and fire and earth. She blessed us with the feather of a water bird. Someone at the talk asked Mona what gave her hope. She said, hope comes with each new dawn.

Feeling blessed by her words, the next day, I woke up at 5 a.m. and went outside a few minutes later. It was already so light! The sunrise was to be about 5:18. The birds were all singing their morning songs. I could see the red orange sphere through the branches of the spruce tree.Spruce Sunrise DSC03603 I felt anew the amazing power of the sun. All plants convert sunlight to energy, and animals eat the plants, and we eat the plants and animals and our bodies are formed of this. We are the sun. Every fiber of our being is created of sunlight. All the earth sings to this light, this star from which we are created.

And we can see the sun. We have been fashioned in such a way that we can recognize this parent—all the creatures of the surface of the earth feel and see the sunlight. I felt joined together with that song of the earth, a prayer of thanksgiving to the sun. Thanks for life! I chimed in. Thanks for vision to experience the life all around me of which I am a part, and for hearing and smelling and tasting and touching.

After such a magical moment, you might think that I would be awake every morning after that. But it wasn’t so easy for me to actually get up at dawn. To sustain it I would have to go to bed much earlier than I was used to. The very next morning I had planned to sleep in, because I was up late the night before. But in the middle of my sleeping, I heard a banging sound.

I stirred, and realized that one of our kittens was inside the closet, pushing against the sliding doors. I grumbled, but the clock said 5:15 a.m., exactly five minutes before sunrise. Feeling duly summoned by forces greater than myself, I crawled out from under the sheets, pulled on my shoes, and went outside once more, while the red ball was just appearing in the east.