English professor Mary Eyring suggested ways we can each more fully recognize, appreciate, learn from, and share the manifestations of God’s love in our lives.
PROVO, Utah (Aug. 25, 2017)—Mary Eyring had almost a year to plan her presentation for Education Week this past summer, but after seeing the Great American Eclipse on August 21, she changed her mind five days before her lecture. The eclipse started her thinking about disruptions in the patterns of our lives—the ones we notice, but especially the ones we don’t. During her lecture for Education Week, Eyring discussed the blessings of God that come as positive disruptions but often go undetected. “Maybe demonstrations of God’s love in our lives are much more common than we realize,” she suggested.
Like many people, Eyring and her family traveled to Idaho to experience the eclipse in totality. She described the color draining out of the landscape, the darkness that fell suddenly across the crowd, and the wind that picked up around them. “With my kiddie pool grasp of astronomy, I was struck by what I thought was God’s extravagance,” she explained. Although she understood that eclipses are natural phenomena, Eyring decided that “God had taken care, and I think some pleasure, in exercising the way He designed [them] for us.”
For Eyring, the eclipse was also “a manifestation to me of something that interrupted the pattern of my life in a way that suggested to me God’s greatness.” She compared the eclipse to other God-given moments and experiences in her life that were so overwhelming, they forced her to pause and change the way she looked at life.
Eyring expressed her gratitude for these moments but thoughtfully explained she did not think they are recognized and appreciated as often as they should be. Referring back to her eclipse example, she described to the audience a gorgeous sunset she drove past on her way home from the eclipse viewing. She admitted that she was tired, preoccupied, and used to seeing sunsets—thus, she didn’t appreciate what she called a “spectacular demonstration of God’s love and care for us.”
Eyring isn’t alone in noticing society’s ability to disregard the spectacular. She quoted a passage from Annie Dillard’s essay, “Total Eclipse,” in which Dillard describes something strange during the solar eclipse of 1979:
“During the moments of totality, it was so dark that the drivers on the highway below turned on their cars’ headlights. We could see the highway’s route as a strand of lights. It was bumper-to-bumper down there. It was 8:15 in the morning, Monday morning, and people were driving into Yakima to work. That it was as dark as night . . . an hour after dawn, apparently meant that in order to see to drive to work, people had to use their headlights. Four or five cars pulled off the road. The rest, in a line at least five miles long, drove to town. The highway ran between the hills; the people could not have seen any of the eclipsed sun at all.”
It often requires intention and effort to disrupt our normal life, to pause in recognition and gratitude for a blessing or a beautiful sunset. Reflecting on the meaning or symbolism behind an experience takes time, and it’s sometimes easier to metaphorically flip on the headlights and continue driving to work. Eyring added, “In some cases, I am surprised to discover how unchanged I am by [extraordinary events]. In fact, with some of them I’m surprised to see how much I doubt my own powers of recollection.”
Writing these experiences down, Eyring reasons, is the best way to remember and solidify them. Writing forces you to examine a moment and decipher it enough to put it in words. “If we engage the powers of language in order to sit with and sift through what’s happened, we have experiences that can become life changing, that become permanent rather than distant, faulty memories,” Eyring explained.
Our moments of disruption are most powerful when we share what we’ve learned with others in our lives. Written accounts of our experiences can be shared with friends and family across distance and time. One aspect of this sharing Eyring found essential is the power to discuss together the blessings God has prepared for each person. As experiences are recorded and shared, people may find that they have had similar “disruptive” moments.
Eyring asked the audience to consider that “maybe demonstrations of God’s love in our lives are much more common than we realize.” In order to benefit from these demonstrations, we must stop, recognize them, and take the time to write them down. “I have found,” Eyring continued, “the things that I put into words . . . have impacted my life most. Maybe that’s why my profession in the humanities brings me so much joy—I have the opportunity to read inspired writers and see the ways language can [make] transferable the greatest blessings in my life: the experiences that God has blessed me with.”
—Olivia Madsen (B.A. French language ’18)
Olivia covers news for the English Department of the College of Humanities. She is a senior pursuing a degree in French language with a minor in international development.
Photos from Business Insider, polbizz.com
Read more about eclipses and how Maya society interpreted them here.
Read about philosophers’ experiences with eclipses here.