I am writing to you from the monastery in Atchison where 125 Benedictine nuns are eagerly awaiting 600 guests who are coming to watch the full solar eclipse. An astronomer from the Vatican will be here to speak and they are serving hot dogs on the lawn. One nun giggled as she pictured people stopping on the highway to see the moment that hasn’t happened for 99 years and will not happen here again in our lifetimes.

I am here to do a little watching myself. Not of the eclipse. But for something that seems also rare. I begin my watch with a peek at the Bible, and a stack of theological books that could keep my eyes busy for months. I have come to soak up some wisdom and truth so that I might have something to say when September rolls around and I am expected to show up in the pulpit weekly. Fred Craddock said that “preaching is truth mediated through personality” so I realize that I need to bring more than facts. So I pause to listen to my own heart as well. During the sung evening vespers and morning prayers led by the elderly nuns, I strain to hear the presence of the holy in communal life and within my own soul. The silence of a monastery can be deafening, leaving one no other choice but to pay attention to what is gnawing inside.

Perhaps you have had a moment this summer to take a step back from the ordinary routine of life and listen anew. Whether on a walk in the neighborhood or a family vacation, a break can pull us out of our comfort zones and awaken us to seeing in new ways. Maybe that is why we worship each Sunday, not just to praise but to ponder. To sharpen our skill of watching.

The number one thing you said in the congregational survey last winter is that you wanted outstanding preaching. And so I am here with the sisters in solitude. I feel like one of those people pulling over on the side of the highway, because they realize something extraordinary is happening in the universe. And we better watch. We don’t want to miss it. Maybe the mystery happens all the time. We only occasionally watch.