Nous and Total Eclipse

This week’s supplemental reading, “Adventures in New Testament Greek: Nous,” has a two-pronged focus. First, it introduces the concept that all of our thoughts and our feelings, and even our very souls, are the miraculous products of elaborate biological processes.  We all have firing synapses, binding neurotransmitters and excreted hormones to blame for our self-awareness. After blowing our minds with that reality, Nous urges us to step back and enjoy life via our physical senses. It’s not often that we forego reason to enjoy the present moment.

Nous encourages us to savor underappreciated sensations. When was the last time you paused and rejoiced in the exotic feel of oxygen flowing through your lungs? Probably not recently enough. Breathing is incredible when you think about it. Oxygen rushing into the lungs and presently diffusing into the bloodstream. Engorged blood cells pulsating with O2 as they hasten to share their bounty with oxygen-impoverished innards. Absolutely incredible, and even more so when you feel it.  

Annie Dillard’s ‘Total Eclipse’ touched on the same dichotomy: knowing versus experiencing. In her essay, Dillard imparts memories about what it is like to witness a total eclipse. What’s interesting is how startlingly irrational Dillard’s account of the eclipse is. At one point she likens the eclipse-burdened landscape to an old black and white movie. At another she claims that the eclipse transformed the world into a metallic rendering.

Annie Dillard is a scientist. She is fully aware of what scientifically happens during a solar eclipse, and was equally knowledgeable during the time of her account. Even so, Dillard’s account was not scientific. Quite the contrary. Dillard’s tale was noticeably lacking scientific explanation. She chose to indulge her senses, her fantasies, and the beauty of the present moment. I am thankful she did. Imagine if Annie Dillard viewed the solar eclipse with a strictly scientific eye. If that were the case, I may have been stuck reading Annie Dillard’s science textbook rather than Annie Dillard’s poetic speculation.

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