Most of us humans are opacarophiliacs. It means that we have an attraction to sunsets. Though it can happen anywhere, people especially like to gather on beaches to watch the sun go down over the water’s western sky. We are amazed at the spectacular and unique array of colors and we quietly wonder how brilliant orange, subtle pink, and fiery red blend so perfectly together with a yellow center and blue backdrop. Some psychologists believe that sunsets have a profound mental effect on our brains and soothing spiritual effect on our souls. The time of the departing sun is sometimes referred to as the magic hour or golden hour. Pausing to look out and up at that time can induce calm, take away stress, and bring peace.
Some people think we are drawn to sunsets because it helps us become more comfortable with our own inevitable end, or earthly death. I suppose that the end of a day does, in certain ways, connect us with the end of life, while its beauty and tranquility can guide us to be more accepting of our eventual demise. The magnificence of the magic hour can almost take our breath away and even remind us of God’s action after forming the first human being: He breathed life into him. Similarly, when Jesus rose from the dead, the first thing He did was to breath upon His disciples; it was the breath of heaven. Whether entering earth as a newborn or entering heaven as a worn-out child of God, we are given divine breath.
In the Christmas story, there is a powerful scene in which the Baby Jesus is presented in the temple and consecrated to God. He is swept up by two elderly characters who are moved by the Holy Spirit: a pious man named Simeon and a prophetess named Anna. The former takes the baby into his arms and praises God saying: “Now, Lord, you can dismiss your servant to die in peace for my eyes have beheld your salvation.” The two of them represent human sunsets. The Holy Spirit, often referred to as The Breath of Heaven, is what inspires them. When my mother took her final breath earlier this year while scores of family members gathered around, she taught us to greet the human sunset in all its beauty and even be at peace with its heightened emotion for, deep down, it brings hope; deep down, it reminds us that the world, even with its trials, tribulations, and tragedies, is merely pointing us to another horizon that is eternal. Though it takes our breath away (literally), God will breathe upon us, again, on the other side of life.
As the sun sets upon the Year-2020, I pray that you will find a similar sense to what you once felt while watching a gloriously triumphant sun slip away. We toast the old and cheer the new much as we do at Christian funerals. My wish for you in the year ahead is that you be in contact with God each day; for if you are in daily communion with the Lord, your final sunset will be more welcomed, more natural, and more gloriously triumphant. Each day, we should pray a little, just as each day we should laugh a bit, as we should stretch and exercise some, too. Each day, we should get some healthy sleep, good nutrition, and good interaction with others who’re on the same pilgrim journey. Each day we should be appreciative of some small thing and each day we should support some other person in a little way, so that each day, at the golden hour, we can find comfort in our connection to what awaits us over the horizon.
As a prelude to our virtual Christmas Eve Mass at Saint Charles Borromeo, Sarah McEnerney sang, so lovingly and magnificently, Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven.” Her tender melody has replayed in my head every day since; I can’t shake it. Though the words are given to us from the perspective of the young virgin of Nazareth, Blessed Mother Mary, who expresses emotions of uncertainty for the future and trepidation for the challenges ahead, she calls upon the Breath of Heaven to grant her strength, hold her together, and lighten the darkness. Let that be our prayer, too, as the sun sets on 2020 and we greet the infant life that awaits us on the other side as a fresh year dawns to breathe new life into us.