A Day of Clouds Can't Eclipse a Day of Awe

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Puny humans felt a collective shiver across Europe and Asia Wednesday as nature served notice of its potency. For two dark, cool and eerie daytime minutes, the sun was a black hole in the sky as the moon shuttered parts of the earth from its rays. And hundreds of millions of people from England to India dropped everything to behold the power -– most evident by its absence -– of the star’s light. Even as thick cloud obscured many in Britain and Western Europe from a clear view of the last solar eclipse of the millennium, the masses crowding beaches, city streets and autobahns felt the awesome minutes of daytime darkness as a profound, collective moment. "We were under a total cloud," said British astronomer Patrick Moore. "(But) the drop in light and temperature was quite amazing, and the rise in the end was equally remarkable. It was a strange experience."

An event of such visceral impact elicited widely divergent responses from the world’s religions. Pope John Paul II terminated his morning audience with pilgrims to watch the eclipse, while adherents to all manner of New Age traditions in England gathered on beaches to welcome the darkened sun as a profound spiritual moment. Muslims in Egypt stayed indoors on orders of their clergy, while in Gujarat, India, priests rang temple bells and sounded gongs to ward off evil spirits. However humans chose to make sense of it, the eclipse was a humbling reminder of nature’s power.