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Civil Twilight

twilightThursday, a week ago, we met our newest grandchild, Brandon Evans Henry. He is perfect and beautiful, a new life, full of wonder and promise and hope. As every new birth, a miracle. What a gift from God to this retiring pastor …

We came up from Philadelphia in the evening, probably around 8:30, I think. As we were driving north on Route 206, the sky to our left was streaked with orange clouds, a glorious sunset. And to our right, the light on the fields was clear and almost luminous– another gift from God, the beauty of this earth.

I remarked on it, and Peter said, “That’s civil twilight.” I had never heard of ‘civil twilight’. “What is that?” I asked him. He didn’t know exactly. He just knew that the look of the sky, east, opposite the sunset, was called that: civil twilight.

So I googled it.

Twilight, we all understand, is the time between day and night when the sun is below the horizon but its rays still light up the sky. There is evening twilight and morning twilight. Astronomers differentiate between three phases, depending upon the angle at which the geometric center of the sun’s disk is in relation to the horizon: civil, nautical and astronomical twilight. In astronomical twilight, it is still hard for astronomers to observe the fainter stars and galaxies. In nautical twilight, many of the brighter stars can be seen, making it possible to use them for navigation at sea. In civil twilight - on earth, on land, among people - you can still play outside because it’s not really dark yet.

As you might guess, the other thing I did, as we drove north on 206 a week ago Thursday, during civil twilight, was theologize the experience. That is what I do, almost all the time.

For that is what I was called here, fifteen years ago, to do: to try to help you see the presence of the triune God in the ordinary – and extraordinary - experiences of living, whether it be God the Creator; Jesus, the Redeemer, who draws us back into God’s wide loving embrace when we have gone astray; or the Holy Spirit, the Sustainer, who speaks to us through our hearts and minds to keep us on the right path.

We live our lives in civil twilight, in the time between the deepest dark and the most glorious daylight. We experience tragedies – death, loss, destruction, injustice, crime, violence – and unmitigated joys – good health, recovery from grave illness, happiness, passionate love. But everyday life is not one extreme or the other; it is that constant twilight between.

Twilight is a time of change – day into night, night into day – every day. And the changes at civil twilight are like the changes in our lives.

In the evening twilight, you gradually begin to lose sight of what seemed sharp and clear in the daylight. You begin to understand relative importance –what can get done, what you can accomplish and what you have to let go of. For me, pressing toward retirement, I know this acutely.

In morning twilight - now in summer around 5 a.m. - as the sky begins to lighten and the birds begin to sing, that’s when realizations come. Moment by moment, things come into view and there’s a freshness, anticipation and hope for what the new day will bring.

But you can only see the beauty of civil twilight, however, when the weather is clear and you take the time to pay attention. Otherwise, it’s just another day begun or another day ended – or sadly, another day lost and forgotten. My advice - try to pay attention every day, even when the weather doesn’t cooperate. Because we live our lives in civil twilight and there is always beauty and awe in it…

And remember this: in the twilight, between the dark and the daylight, God is the continuous constant – Father, Son and Holy Spirit; God the Creator, God the Redeemer, God the Sustainer. And God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.

Of all that I have tried to communicate over my time here with you, nothing is more important than that simple fact: to know the eternal love of God for each and every one of us, even with our differences and despite our failings.

And now to the One who by the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than anything we can ever ask or imagine, to God be the glory now and forever. Amen.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
July 1, 2018

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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