Eclipses and Sparrows by Rachel Rim

The universe is vast beyond the stars/But You are mindful when a sparrow falls.
—Fernando Ortega, "Jesus King of Angels"

Six days ago, on August 21, along with millions of other Americans spread across 2,530 miles from coast to coast, I donned funky sunglasses and squinted up. The sky, unnaturally dark for one o’clock in the afternoon, revealed an orange sliver—not the moon, but the sun blocked by the moon. Even though it was a partial and not a full eclipse, it was still an eerily strange phenomenon. As I stared up at the sky (not directly at the eclipse, of course), I thought about the universe—its vastness, how little I understand about it, how small I am by comparison.

Less than twenty-four hours before the solar eclipse, I was walking out of Target with my mom and sister. They paused ahead of me and crouched down beside a parked car. When I reached them, I saw what they were staring at: a tiny sparrow, wings injured, fluttering around in a panic. Its desperation was palpable. Though we tried to coax the bird out from beneath the car (my mom even called over two teenage boys collecting carts to convince them to help), we could do nothing to help. Every time one of us got near the sparrow, it would frantically hop-fly to the other side of the car, staying just out of reach, mistaking our desire to help for malicious intent. There was something profoundly frustrating about wanting to help—being so much bigger, smaller and wiser than the tiny bird—and yet still thwarted by its frantic fear.

The universe is vast beyond the stars/But You are mindful when a sparrow falls.

With every day I wake up in the morning, I grow increasingly convinced that this is one of the central struggles of the Christian—to recognize both our smallness and our significance, to trust not just God’s power but his tenderness. We, too, are sparrows—wounded in our way, trapped beneath hard asphalt and an often frightening world. Sometimes hands meant to heal come too close, and we flit away because vulnerability is just as terrifying as suffering. Sometimes we would rather stay trapped beneath the car because the universe is vast beyond the stars, and hurricanes hit and racism seems to have an infinite number of lives and our own selfishness is as formidable a trap as the underbelly of a car is to a sparrow. Solar eclipses and solar engines; dark skies and darker selves. It’s difficult to know where to turn, where to look in the sky, which direction to run.

Yet we run to him. To the one who owns the vastness of the universe and yet condescends to know the pain of the sparrow. To the one whose power is beyond our understanding, but so also is his tenderness, and as the philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff writes, “perhaps his sorrow is splendor.” The Christ who bridges polarities, who reconciles paradoxes, whose sorrow is splendor, is a Christ we can trust.

He creates eclipses and sparrows, and we are safe in his hands.